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Hammond traffic judge faces misconduct charges

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Indiana Lawyer Disciplinary Actions

Hammond City Judge Jeffrey A. Harkin faces three misconduct charges for operating an illegal traffic school deferral program and dismissing cases without collecting 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, accusing him of going above state law in creating a deferral program that only a prosecutor is legally allowed to operate and not following the statutory framework for how courts assess and collect costs.

Judge Harkin has been on the bench since April 2001, and these allegations relate to his conduct beginning in 2005.

Two of the professional misconduct charges involve the judge referring hundreds of litigants to the traffic classes and then later dismissing their infractions on the condition that they complete those classes.

Hammond City Court Traffic School was usually taught by city police officers at the court. Judge Harkin would tell the litigants that their cases 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 in place from 2005 to early 2011. An administrative fee of $75 per litigant was charged from 2005 to 2009, and it increased to $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 rental of 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. 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.

This isn’t the first court-administered driving school that’s been questioned in Lake County.

Five years ago, Lake Superior Judge Julie Cantrell drew the attention of state judicial officials after concerns arose about the legality of her dismissing tickets of defendants who paid for traffic classes. Allegations surfaced that she was not reporting proceeds from that deferral program to the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles and instead was funneling that money to other locations. Judge Cantrell denied any wrongdoing, but she eventually shut the program down after the judicial qualifications commission publicly cautioned her for improperly using those fees to give her staff $20,700 in salary bonuses.

In 2004, former Schererville Town Judge Deborah Riga was indicted for extortion and fraud based on kickbacks received from more than 1,000 defendants she’d sentenced to driving school and counseling classes through a program she secretly owned and from which she personally profited. She received a 15-month federal prison sentence in 2008 and was ordered to pay $12,120 in restitution to the town and state.

Judge Harkin has 20 days from June 30 to file an answer, though it’s not required. The Indiana Supreme Court can then 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 the Supreme Court would be responsible for imposing sanctions. Judge Harkin has no previous disciplinary history, according to the Indiana Supreme Court Roll of Attorneys.•

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  1. On a related note, I offered the ICLU my cases against the BLE repeatedly, and sought their amici aid repeatedly as well. Crickets. Usually not even a response. I am guessing they do not do allegations of anti-Christian bias? No matter how glaring? I have posted on other links the amicus brief that did get filed (search this ezine, e.g., Kansas attorney), read the Thomas More Society brief to note what the ACLU ran from like vampires from garlic. An Examiner pledged to advance diversity and inclusion came right out on the record and demanded that I choose Man's law or God's law. I wonder, had I been asked to swear off Allah ... what result then, ICLU? Had I been found of bad character and fitness for advocating sexual deviance, what result then ICLU? Had I been lifetime banned for posting left of center statements denigrating the US Constitution, what result ICLU? Hey, we all know don't we? Rather Biased.

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  3. This law is troubling in two respects: First, why wasn't the law reviewed "with the intention of getting all the facts surrounding the legislation and its actual impact on the marketplace" BEFORE it was passed and signed? Seems a bit backwards to me (even acknowledging that this is the Indiana state legislature we're talking about. Second, what is it with the laws in this state that seem to create artificial monopolies in various industries? Besides this one, the other law that comes to mind is the legislation that governed the granting of licenses to firms that wanted to set up craft distilleries. The licensing was limited to only those entities that were already in the craft beer brewing business. Republicans in this state talk a big game when it comes to being "business friendly". They're friendly alright . . . to certain businesses.

  4. 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.

  5. I am not the John below. He is a journalist and talk show host who knows me through my years working in Kansas government. I did no ask John to post the note below ...

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