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Improper conduct by trial court does not require reversal of contempt order

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The Indiana Court of Appeals Tuesday found a trial judge committed some improper conduct during a hearing on a protective order, with one judge noting the court was “precariously close to crossing the line” when intervening in the proceedings. Despite this, the appellate court affirmed the order of contempt in favor of the petitioner.

K.G. had a protective order in place against A.N., who was not to directly or indirectly contact him or three other people. K.G. filed several petitions for contempt against A.N., alleging she called his home and ex-wife’s phone. The trial court held a hearing on a contempt petition filed Nov. 10, 2011, the subject of this appeal.

K.G. appeared pro se and A.N. was represented by counsel. The judge, Marion Superior Judge Barbara Crawford, found A.N. violated the protective order and ordered her 120-day sentence executed and placed her on home detention. The judge relied on evidence K.G. presented of a photograph he took of his home phone that displayed a telephone number he claimed belonged to A.N.

A.N. appealed, arguing the trial court improperly acted as an advocate for K.G., thereby violating her due process right to a fair trial.

“The record shows that the trial court’s questions were neutral, served to clarify K.G.’s testimony, and did not discredit A.N. or her defense. Although A.N. alleges prejudice since the trial court cited the photograph when explaining its rationale for finding A.N. in contempt, A.N. was not prejudiced because she cross-examined K.G. on the photograph. We therefore conclude that the trial court did not act as an advocate by asking K.G. foundational questions regarding the photograph,” Judge Patricia Riley wrote in In the Matter of the Petition for Temporary Protective Order: A.N. v. K.G., 49A04-1212-PO-649.

“A.N. asserts that the actions of the trial court, even if individually insufficient to establish improper advocacy, require reversal based on their cumulative effect. The record before us and the nature of the proceedings admittedly contains a number of irregularities and arguably improper conduct by the trial court. However, because the trial court did not err in each of circumstance alleged by A.N., we find no cumulative error and therefore conclude that A.N. was not denied a fair trial. As a result, A.N. has not shown fundamental error,” she continued.

Judge Margret Robb wrote in a concurring opinion that she believed “the trial court was precariously close to crossing the line of acceptable intervention into the course of these proceedings. Had the evidence of A.N.’s impermissible contacts not been so strong, the trial court’s actions may have been enough to compromise the parties’ rights to a fair trial.”
 

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  1. Why in the world would someone need a person to correct a transcript when a realtime court reporter could provide them with a transcript (rough draft) immediately?

  2. If the end result is to simply record the spoke word, then perhaps some day digital recording may eventually be the status quo. However, it is a shallow view to believe the professional court reporter's function is to simply report the spoken word and nothing else. There are many aspects to being a professional court reporter, and many aspects involved in producing a professional and accurate transcript. A properly trained professional steno court reporter has achieved a skill set in a field where the average dropout rate in court reporting schools across the nation is 80% due to the difficulty of mastering the necessary skills. To name just a few "extras" that a court reporter with proper training brings into a courtroom or a deposition suite; an understanding of legal procedure, technology specific to the legal profession, and an understanding of what is being said by the attorneys and litigants (which makes a huge difference in the quality of the transcript). As to contracting, or anti-contracting the argument is simple. The court reporter as governed by our ethical standards is to be the independent, unbiased individual in a deposition or courtroom setting. When one has entered into a contract with any party, insurance carrier, etc., then that reporter is no longer unbiased. I have been a court reporter for over 30 years and I echo Mr. Richardson's remarks that I too am here to serve.

  3. A competitive bid process is ethical and appropriate especially when dealing with government agencies and large corporations, but an ethical line is crossed when court reporters in Pittsburgh start charging exorbitant fees on opposing counsel. This fee shifting isn't just financially biased, it undermines the entire justice system, giving advantages to those that can afford litigation the most. It makes no sense.

  4. "a ttention to detail is an asset for all lawyers." Well played, Indiana Lawyer. Well played.

  5. I have a appeals hearing for the renewal of my LPN licenses and I need an attorney, the ones I have spoke to so far want the money up front and I cant afford that. I was wondering if you could help me find one that takes payments or even a pro bono one. I live in Indiana just north of Indianapolis.

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