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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. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  2. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  3. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

  4. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

  5. "No one is safe when the Legislature is in session."

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