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Judge G. Michael Witte named new discipline executive

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If Judge G. Michael Witte hadn’t tried for the appellate bench about two years ago, he might not be in the position now to be Indiana’s newest chief of lawyer ethics.

But fate took him away from being an elected Dearborn Superior judge and put him on a different path of senior judging and national leadership, before capping his 25-year judicial career with news that he’s now the new executive secretary of the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission.

The state’s highest court chose him for the post May 7, about four months after executive secretary Don Lundberg left the post after 18 years for private practice.

Witte, who starts his duties June 21, will be responsible for supervising a staff agency that investigates and prosecutes attorney disciplinary cases. He’ll take over for Seth Pruden, the longtime disciplinary attorney who’s been interim executive secretary since the beginning of the year.

“I’m ready for what I call my second season of service,” the 53-year-old Witte said. “I thought this would be a logical next step, an opportunity for me to meld all my professional experiences into one executive administrative position.”

A 1982 graduate of Indiana University School of Law – Indianapolis, Witte practiced with Douglas R. Denmure in Aurora. He then worked as a deputy prosecuting attorney before taking the bench in 1985 in the Dearborn County Court. He was the first Asian-American to serve as a judge in Indiana, and he served in that role until 2000 before he transitioned to Dearborn Superior 1, serving there through 2008.
 

michael witte Witte

In late 2007, Judge Witte applied for an opening on the state’s second highest appeals court after Judge John Sharpnack announced his retirement. Judge Witte was one of the three finalists forwarded to the governor for consideration, but Judge Elaine Brown was ultimately chosen. Judge Witte was up for re-election in 2008 and his opponent in the primary election used his appellate bench application to help garner more votes in the election.

When reflecting on his appellate seat application and election loss, Judge Witte affirmed that the line of events likely sealed his fate to become the state’s newest executive secretary.

“That may be a fair assessment,” he said with a laugh.

Witte in March 2009 served for about four months as full-time Wayne Superior 1 judge, replacing Judge P. Thomas Snow who’d been named chairman of the state’s Alcohol & Tobacco Commission. Since then he’s been serving as senior judge in various counties throughout the state. That has helped him keep his skills sharp, he said.

He has also been serving in other state and national leadership roles. He’s currently vice chair of the American Bar Association Judicial Division and a nationally recognized speaker about diversity in the judiciary. Witte has also served on Indiana’s interim legislative Commission on Courts from 2005 to 2007, was a three-year judicial fellow for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, served as chair of the ABA’s National Conference of Specialized Court Judges, and was on the Congressional Advisory Committee for Commercial Driver’s License.

Witte started teaching with the National Judicial College in Nevada in 1994 and has taught courses nationally and internationally through the years, as well.

Though he won’t be senior judging anymore, this new position doesn’t change his role with the ABA; he begins his duties as the Judicial Division chair in 2011 as he’ll mark another Asian-American first.

Combined with his service on the bench, Witte said that background has given him a chance to gain experience in the attorney ethics and discipline areas. Most recently, he’s been involved with drafting the model Code of Judicial Conduct the ABA, and various states – including Indiana – have adopted. He’s also participated in ethical discussions about such topics as judicial disqualification following the United States Supreme Court Caperton v. A.T. Massey Coal decision in 2009.

“Academically, that’s part of my involvement,” he said. “But just as a trial judge, we’re all on the front lines of patrolling attorney conduct. We either see it before us in the heat of battle in contentious litigation, or we see it in tension-filled pleadings. It’s one of those things we experience quite regularly and sometimes must step in and referee to bring attorneys back to focus.”

Those making the selection praised his past experience preparing him for this new post.

“Mike Witte has dedicated his career to public service, and I am pleased he will spend the next chapter of his legal career leading the Discipline Commission,” Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard said. “He is well known to attorneys across Indiana as thoughtful and fair and energetic.”

In a prepared statement about Witte’s appointment, Disciplinary Commission chair and North Vernon attorney Corinne Finnerty praised the judge’s broad range of judicial leadership experience at both the state and national level and said the nine-member commission is confident he’ll use his management skills to “ensure the integrity of the Indiana legal profession is maintained.”

During the search and interview process, Finnerty on behalf of the commission declined to speak even generally about the process in order to respect applicants’ privacy. She instead referred comment to Supreme Court public information officer Kathryn Dolan, who said there was little guidance about the procedure because it’s only the third time in nearly 40 years that it has happened.

Before this transition, Lundberg began as executive secretary in December 1991 after taking over for Sheldon A. Breskow, who’d served since Jan. 3, 1977. Before that, Lundberg recalled that a handful of individuals served shorter terms following the Disciplinary Commission’s creation in 1971 and served almost as place keepers.

When his application process was under way in the early ’90s, Lundberg recalled the entire process took a maximum of four months. He remembers an interview before the full commission with about 10 other applicants, and that he later had a second interview with the commission chair at the time, Ice Miller partner Dan Kelley. Lundberg was in that position by Dec. 2, 1991 and served until starting as partner and deputy general counsel with Barnes & Thornburg in Indianapolis.

Once Lundberg announced his retirement in November 2009, Dolan said the commission immediately started its search for a new executive secretary. Members received 24 applications by the Jan. 29 application deadline, and they narrowed that list to 10 people and began interviews in April, Dolan said.

Neither the court nor Disciplinary Commission answered questions about whether a single name or list of finalists was submitted to the court for consideration. Witte said he’d applied before the January deadline, had his first interview with the full commission in early April, and had a second interview before the Supreme Court on the morning of May 6. The court selected him the following day.

He received a call about the selection and accepted the appointment while attending an ABA Judicial Division leadership planning meeting in Lexington, Ky. Saying that he’s honored by the appointment, Witte plans to spend the next month wrapping up his senior judging duties and personal details before he moves from Dearborn County to Indianapolis.

Witte doesn’t want to delve into any specifics that he may address once taking the position, saying that like any new administrator he’ll first inventory and assess current operations and procedures before making any decisions.

But one issue that could get some attention might be a topic he’s addressed periodically in the past, including during his 2007 second interview for the appellate bench. He mentioned that mandatory CLE could involve minimum hours devoted to understanding character traits and dynamics of drug addiction, chemical dependency, alcoholism, and alcohol abuse – all topics some states require.

“That’s something I’ve brought up several times during my career when it’s been appropriate,” he said. “The whole profession needs to have understanding of dependency because it impacts so much of our legal profession.”•
 

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  • Congrates to Judge Witte
    Congratulations Mr.Judge Witte: I can honestly say this is a man of true honesty,virtue,and High morals. Even though My husband has pasted (Jim Seaver) He always highly respected Mr.Judge Witte, and His family..

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  1. I have been on this program while on parole from 2011-2013. No person should be forced mentally to share private details of their personal life with total strangers. Also giving permission for a mental therapist to report to your parole agent that your not participating in group therapy because you don't have the financial mean to be in the group therapy. I was personally singled out and sent back three times for not having money and also sent back within the six month when you aren't to be sent according to state law. I will work to het this INSOMM's removed from this state. I also had twelve or thirteen parole agents with a fifteen month period. Thanks for your time.

  2. Our nation produces very few jurists of the caliber of Justice DOUGLAS and his peers these days. Here is that great civil libertarian, who recognized government as both a blessing and, when corrupted by ideological interests, a curse: "Once the investigator has only the conscience of government as a guide, the conscience can become ‘ravenous,’ as Cromwell, bent on destroying Thomas More, said in Bolt, A Man For All Seasons (1960), p. 120. The First Amendment mirrors many episodes where men, harried and harassed by government, sought refuge in their conscience, as these lines of Thomas More show: ‘MORE: And when we stand before God, and you are sent to Paradise for doing according to your conscience, *575 and I am damned for not doing according to mine, will you come with me, for fellowship? ‘CRANMER: So those of us whose names are there are damned, Sir Thomas? ‘MORE: I don't know, Your Grace. I have no window to look into another man's conscience. I condemn no one. ‘CRANMER: Then the matter is capable of question? ‘MORE: Certainly. ‘CRANMER: But that you owe obedience to your King is not capable of question. So weigh a doubt against a certainty—and sign. ‘MORE: Some men think the Earth is round, others think it flat; it is a matter capable of question. But if it is flat, will the King's command make it round? And if it is round, will the King's command flatten it? No, I will not sign.’ Id., pp. 132—133. DOUGLAS THEN WROTE: Where government is the Big Brother,11 privacy gives way to surveillance. **909 But our commitment is otherwise. *576 By the First Amendment we have staked our security on freedom to promote a multiplicity of ideas, to associate at will with kindred spirits, and to defy governmental intrusion into these precincts" Gibson v. Florida Legislative Investigation Comm., 372 U.S. 539, 574-76, 83 S. Ct. 889, 908-09, 9 L. Ed. 2d 929 (1963) Mr. Justice DOUGLAS, concurring. I write: Happy Memorial Day to all -- God please bless our fallen who lived and died to preserve constitutional governance in our wonderful series of Republics. And God open the eyes of those government officials who denounce the constitutions of these Republics by arbitrary actions arising out capricious motives.

  3. From back in the day before secularism got a stranglehold on Hoosier jurists comes this great excerpt via Indiana federal court judge Allan Sharp, dedicated to those many Indiana government attorneys (with whom I have dealt) who count the law as a mere tool, an optional tool that is not to be used when political correctness compels a more acceptable result than merely following the path that the law directs: ALLEN SHARP, District Judge. I. In a scene following a visit by Henry VIII to the home of Sir Thomas More, playwriter Robert Bolt puts the following words into the mouths of his characters: Margaret: Father, that man's bad. MORE: There is no law against that. ROPER: There is! God's law! MORE: Then God can arrest him. ROPER: Sophistication upon sophistication! MORE: No, sheer simplicity. The law, Roper, the law. I know what's legal not what's right. And I'll stick to what's legal. ROPER: Then you set man's law above God's! MORE: No, far below; but let me draw your attention to a fact I'm not God. The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I can't navigate. I'm no voyager. But in the thickets of law, oh, there I'm a forester. I doubt if there's a man alive who could follow me there, thank God... ALICE: (Exasperated, pointing after Rich) While you talk, he's gone! MORE: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law! ROPER: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law! MORE: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? ROPER: I'd cut down every law in England to do that! MORE: (Roused and excited) Oh? (Advances on Roper) And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you where would you hide, Roper, the laws being flat? (He leaves *1257 him) This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast man's laws, not God's and if you cut them down and you're just the man to do it d'you really think you would stand upright in the winds that would blow then? (Quietly) Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake. ROPER: I have long suspected this; this is the golden calf; the law's your god. MORE: (Wearily) Oh, Roper, you're a fool, God's my god... (Rather bitterly) But I find him rather too (Very bitterly) subtle... I don't know where he is nor what he wants. ROPER: My God wants service, to the end and unremitting; nothing else! MORE: (Dryly) Are you sure that's God! He sounds like Moloch. But indeed it may be God And whoever hunts for me, Roper, God or Devil, will find me hiding in the thickets of the law! And I'll hide my daughter with me! Not hoist her up the mainmast of your seagoing principles! They put about too nimbly! (Exit More. They all look after him). Pgs. 65-67, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS A Play in Two Acts, Robert Bolt, Random House, New York, 1960. Linley E. Pearson, Atty. Gen. of Indiana, Indianapolis, for defendants. Childs v. Duckworth, 509 F. Supp. 1254, 1256 (N.D. Ind. 1981) aff'd, 705 F.2d 915 (7th Cir. 1983)

  4. "Meanwhile small- and mid-size firms are getting squeezed and likely will not survive unless they become a boutique firm." I've been a business attorney in small, and now mid-size firm for over 30 years, and for over 30 years legal consultants have been preaching this exact same mantra of impending doom for small and mid-sized firms -- verbatim. This claim apparently helps them gin up merger opportunities from smaller firms who become convinced that they need to become larger overnight. The claim that large corporations are interested in cost-saving and efficiency has likewise been preached for decades, and is likewise bunk. If large corporations had any real interest in saving money they wouldn't use large law firms whose rates are substantially higher than those of high-quality mid-sized firms.

  5. The family is the foundation of all human government. That is the Grand Design. Modern governments throw off this Design and make bureaucratic war against the family, as does Hollywood and cultural elitists such as third wave feminists. Since WWII we have been on a ship of fools that way, with both the elite and government and their social engineering hacks relentlessly attacking the very foundation of social order. And their success? See it in the streets of Fergusson, on the food stamp doles (mostly broken families)and in the above article. Reject the Grand Design for true social function, enter the Glorious State to manage social dysfunction. Our Brave New World will be a prison camp, and we will welcome it as the only way to manage given the anarchy without it.

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