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Hammond traffic judge faces misconduct charges

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Hammond City Judge Jeffrey A. Harkin faces three misconduct charges for operating an illegal traffic school deferral program and dismissing cases without assessing required fees, as well as dissuading one litigant from contesting a seatbelt violation in court.

The Indiana Commission on Judicial Qualifications filed formal charges against the city judge June 30; the charges relating to his conduct stretch back at least five years.

Two of the professional misconduct charges involve Judge Harkin’s operation of a traffic school deferral program that only the prosecutor is allowed by law to operate, and then conditionally dismissing infractions because of attendance. The Hammond City Court Traffic School was usually taught by city police officers Thursday evenings or Saturday mornings at the court.

Judge Harkin would tell the litigants that their case would be dismissed and no points assessed on their driver's licenses if they paid an administrative fee and successfully completed the traffic school class, the complaint says.

That practice was ongoing between 2005 and early 2011, with an administrative fee of $75 charged from 2005 to 2009 and then $100 starting last year. Instead of distributing money to the state, county, and city as required, the judge unlawfully distributed 60 percent of the administrative fee to Hammond for renting the meeting rooms and 40 percent to the Northwest Indiana Traffic School to administer the program.

An estimated $180,000 in fees should have been distributed to the state and county between January 2010 and March 2011, according to the charging document.

Despite annual audit warnings from the State Board of Accounts from 2005 to 2010, Judge Harkin continued operating the school and not assessing the required court costs against those defendants who successfully completed the courses, the complaint says.

A third misconduct charge stems from an August 2010 seatbelt violation case where defendant Matthew Aubrey alleged the judge made inappropriate comments to him and dissuaded him from contesting the ticket in court. When the judge called Aubrey’s name for the hearing to begin, the man said he had paperwork and legal analysis to support his defense against the ticket. Judge Harkin rolled his eyes and asked Aubrey if he was an attorney, the charges say, and then the judge suggested Aubrey should not exercise his right to trial. In part, Judge Harkin said it would cost “10 times more than the original ticket” because of court and legal costs, and that convinced Aubrey to admit the infraction.

The judicial qualifications commission alleges that Judge Harkin routinely acted without appropriate statutory or other legal authority in regard to the traffic school program and in not assessing the required court costs, as well as violating the conduct rules with his statements and conduct during the Aubrey proceedings.

On the bench since April 2001, Judge Harkin has no previous disciplinary history. He has 20 days to file an answer – though it’s not required – and then the Indiana Supreme Court would appoint three masters to hear the evidence and conduct a hearing if no settlement is reached. The state’s justices have final authority on any agreement or disciplinary decision, and if any misconduct is found they’d be responsible for any sanctions that might be necessary.

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  • About Time
    Glad someone caught up with him. Was in court with this guy & he refused to hear why my son claimed not guilty. Finally after 3 X's in court they realized that there was a mix up some how, they made us wait & they called the officer (who was not at any of the appearances before) so he could testify to the validity of the ticket. (It was for a right turn on red--The ticket they had in front of them was for speeding, no proof of insurance or registration. I think they had the wrong name also). Now I get a letter (with the wrong name on it but our address) saying that they are going to suspend my sons drivers license because he didn't show up in court or pay the ticket (Wrong name & we paid the ticket that my son got). I remember hearing other people signing up for this class. I know attorneys & I will get this fixed.

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  2. Gretchen, Asia, Roberto, Tonia, Shannon, Cheri, Nicholas, Sondra, Carey, Laura ... my heart breaks for you, reaching out in a forum in which you are ignored by a professional suffering through both compassion fatigue and the love of filthy lucre. Most if not all of you seek a warm blooded Hoosier attorney unafraid to take on the government and plead that government officials have acted unconstitutionally to try to save a family and/or rescue children in need and/or press individual rights against the Leviathan state. I know an attorney from Kansas who has taken such cases across the country, arguing before half of the federal courts of appeal and presenting cases to the US S.Ct. numerous times seeking cert. Unfortunately, due to his zeal for the constitutional rights of peasants and willingness to confront powerful government bureaucrats seemingly violating the same ... he was denied character and fitness certification to join the Indiana bar, even after he was cleared to sit for, and passed, both the bar exam and ethics exam. And was even admitted to the Indiana federal bar! NOW KNOW THIS .... you will face headwinds and difficulties in locating a zealously motivated Hoosier attorney to face off against powerful government agents who violate the constitution, for those who do so tend to end up as marginalized as Paul Odgen, who was driven from the profession. So beware, many are mere expensive lapdogs, the kind of breed who will gladly take a large retainer, but then fail to press against the status quo and powers that be when told to heel to. It is a common belief among some in Indiana that those attorneys who truly fight the power and rigorously confront corruption often end up, actually or metaphorically, in real life or at least as to their careers, as dead as the late, great Gary Welch. All of that said, I wish you the very best in finding a Hoosier attorney with a fighting spirit to press your rights as far as you can, for you do have rights against government actors, no matter what said actors may tell you otherwise. Attorneys outside the elitist camp are often better fighters that those owing the powers that be for their salaries, corner offices and end of year bonuses. So do not be afraid to retain a green horn or unconnected lawyer, many of them are fine men and woman who are yet untainted by the "unique" Hoosier system.

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