Judge: 'I didn't lie ...': Marion Superior jurist faces disciplinary panel

Michael W. Hoskins
January 1, 2008
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Marion Superior Judge Grant W. Hawkins is used to spending his days in court. But on Oct. 6 and 7, he wasn't on the bench; the jurist was the one being judged.

Already, his former part-time commissioner has resigned and been permanently banned from any judicial role because of this issue, and Judge Hawkins is battling 11 misconduct charges against him that could mean his judicial career is on the line.

But before he finds out his fate, the judge is waiting for three out-of-county colleagues to decide whether he violated judicial canons by not adequately supervising his court and misleading an investigation into his court's conduct.

On the bench since January 2001, this is the first time Judge Hawkins has faced a judicial disciplinary hearing. While his demeanor during testimony and in conversations outside the Indiana Supreme Court courtroom clearly illustrated he's nervous about what could happen, he is unwavering in his assertion that he never tried to cover up anything.

"I don't deny I didn't have a good operation," Judge Hawkins said. "But I didn't lie, I didn't mislead anyone. I stand up to my mistakes."

The Indiana Judicial Qualifications Commission in April filed about a dozen charges each against Judge Hawkins and his former part-time commissioner Nancy L. Broyles alleging delay and dereliction of duties relating to the handling of various cases. Mostly, the counts dealt with the handling of a post-conviction case that resulted in Indianapolis man Harold Buntin being held in prison for 22 months after DNA evidence cleared him of a 1984 rape, for which he'd spent a total of 13 years in prison.

Buntin petitioned for relief in 1998 based on DNA evidence that wasn't available during his trial that he hoped would clear him; it eventually did in 2005. Serving in a part-time capacity since 2001, Broyles was assigned his post-conviction hearing in March 2005 and took it under advisement in April.

The case came to light after Buntin received no word from his Indianapolis attorney, Carolyn Rader, or the court, despite his repeated attempts to get an answer. He contacted the commission to investigate the reason for the delay in early 2007.

After the commission got involved, Judge Hawkins investigated and discovered an array of problems: a missing file that was later located, an order that appeared to have been signed 13 months after Broyles took the case under advisement but was not properly processed, and confusion about what caused the delays in the first place. Eventually, Judge Hawkins issued a notice of delay March 8, 2007, but it took an additional six weeks and another inquiry from the Judicial Qualifications Commission before a hearing was scheduled and Buntin was released April 20, 2007.

Now, it's up to three judicial masters - Delaware Circuit Judge Marianne Vorhees, Lake Superior Judge Clarence Murray, and Elkhart Circuit Judge Terry Shewmaker - to sift through the evidence and case history. They presided over the hearing and are expected to issue a report to the high court by Nov. 14.

At the hearing, Disciplinary Commission attorney Adrienne Meiring described a disorganized and delay-ridden court where Judge Hawkins failed to provide adequate supervision. Defense attorney Kevin McGoff contended that the sitting judge wasn't personally responsible for actions he wasn't aware of and at no time misled the investigating commission or parties involved in the case.

McGoff countered most of the witnesses by pointing out that much remains uncertain about the circumstances causing the delay and how differing recollections weren't proof that anyone intentionally misled the investigation.

Rader, Buntin's attorney, testified on the first day that she communicated with Broyles by e-mail, phone, and inquiry, but Rader chose not to bring it to the judge's attention.

"I didn't consider going to (Judge) Hawkins as advisable. I didn't want to cause friction between them, didn't want to get her in trouble, didn't want to raise Cain, didn't want to jeopardize Buntin's position," Rader said.

She testified that she has agreed to a public reprimand in her own disciplinary action, which was for failing to communicate with Buntin during the court delays. She's also reached an undisclosed settlement in a civil suit that Buntin filed against her, she testified.

Buntin's suit against the Marion County clerk and Judge Hawkins' court remains pending.

While it remains unclear exactly how the delays happened, both the judicial officers have taken responsibility for the Buntin case delays and how the court handled the issue.

Just days before the judicial misconduct hearing was to begin, the commission reached an agreement with Broyles in the action against her and the Indiana Supreme Court accepted that discipline Oct. 10. She voluntarily resigned in April, has been permanently banned from the bench, including pro tempore service, and is being publicly reprimanded.

In issuing its order, the court noted that she's shown consistent remorse for the events and takes responsibility for her actions and inactions. The court wrote, "a public reprimand adequately sanctions her for the admissions made as part of this agreement .... (it) remains on her record and is of great personal consequence for her as it would any attorney or judicial officer that considers their reputations to be their largest asset. "All justices agreed except Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard, who found the sanction to be inadequate.

During testimony at Judge Hawkins' hearing, Broyles said she regrets the delays and what happened, saying she agonized and stressed about this case and how to best respond to it - even during the delay that came after she took the case under advisement in April 2005.

"I was the cause .... I did not handle this well," the former commissioner testified, noting that she should have pressed for updates from all parties and moved the case more quickly. "Of my many regrets on this whole matter ... that was my biggest one. I take full responsibility for that."

Broyles said she had no reason to think the judge had misled anyone on the matter and said she's never heard him accused of dishonesty, and some of the judge's colleagues and attorneys practicing before him defended his integrity.

However, Broyles testified that just prior to leaving the bench this spring, a check with court administration showed that Criminal Court 5 continued to have too many PCR cases open, an issue that testimony indicated may have been caused by staff not correctly closing files.

Judge Hawkins said he greatly regrets what happened and has vowed to make sure the process is more closely monitored and scrutinized in his courtroom. Drastic changes have already been implemented, he said.

"You have a system in place you think is working well, and you don't know it isn't working well until someone brings it to your attention," he told the masters' panel. "Mistakes happen to the best of us. I've always wanted to be the best of us, and until Buntin came along, I didn't fully realize the limitations we have." •

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  1. This is ridiculous. Most JDs not practicing law don't know squat to justify calling themselves a lawyer. Maybe they should try visiting the inside of a courtroom before they go around calling themselves lawyers. This kind of promotional BS just increases the volume of people with JDs that are underqualified thereby dragging all the rest of us down likewise.

  2. I think it is safe to say that those Hoosier's with the most confidence in the Indiana judicial system are those Hoosier's who have never had the displeasure of dealing with the Hoosier court system.

  3. I have an open CHINS case I failed a urine screen I have since got clean completed IOP classes now in after care passed home inspection my x sister in law has my children I still don't even have unsupervised when I have been clean for over 4 months my x sister wants to keep the lids for good n has my case working with her I just discovered n have proof that at one of my hearing dcs case worker stated in court to the judge that a screen was dirty which caused me not to have unsupervised this was at the beginning two weeks after my initial screen I thought the weed could have still been in my system was upset because they were suppose to check levels n see if it was going down since this was only a few weeks after initial instead they said dirty I recently requested all of my screens from redwood because I take prescriptions that will show up n I was having my doctor look at levels to verify that matched what I was prescripted because dcs case worker accused me of abuseing when I got my screens I found out that screen I took that dcs case worker stated in court to judge that caused me to not get granted unsupervised was actually negative what can I do about this this is a serious issue saying a parent failed a screen in court to judge when they didn't please advise

  4. I have a degree at law, recent MS in regulatory studies. Licensed in KS, admitted b4 S& 7th circuit, but not to Indiana bar due to political correctness. Blacklisted, nearly unemployable due to hostile state action. Big Idea: Headwinds can overcome, esp for those not within the contours of the bell curve, the Lego Movie happiness set forth above. That said, even without the blacklisting for holding ideas unacceptable to the Glorious State, I think the idea presented above that a law degree open many vistas other than being a galley slave to elitist lawyers is pretty much laughable. (Did the law professors of Indiana pay for this to be published?)

  5. Joe, you might want to do some reading on the fate of Hoosier whistleblowers before you get your expectations raised up.