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Former Schererville judge sentenced

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A former judge in Lake County received a 15-month federal prison sentence on Thursday, four years after being indicted for extortion and fraud, and two years after she pleaded guilty to getting kickbacks from more than 1,000 defendants that she'd sentenced to driving school and counseling classes she secretly owned and personally profited from.

U.S. District Judge Philip Simon in the Northern District of Indiana, Hammond Division, sentenced former Schererville Town Judge Deborah Riga to prison and also ordered her to pay $12,120 in restitution to the town and state.

She was the second person elected to that town court and started in 2000; her plea agreement shows that within a year of taking the bench she set up the driver education and youth counseling programs and started using her judicial power to mandate criminal offenders attend those classes.

Court records show a similar but unrelated scheme where Riga had directed employees to change their hours and billing practices so that money normally going to the state and county would instead go to the town, and that the former judge stopped paying rent to the town for court space and had employees working on the township payroll whose wages should have come from a juvenile counseling program fund. At the sentencing hearing, Judge Simon noted the former judge made about $30,000 from that scheme.

Since Riga's indictment in 2004, the federal court granted six continuances and noted in its latest one in June that it would be the last. Part of the reason for delay was that Riga has been cooperating with the federal government in the prosecution of former political ally Robert Cantrell, who was convicted in June of 11 counts of fraud. That helped her get a reduced sentence, as well as the use of more lenient rules that were in place in 2002.

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  1. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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