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Justices disagree on judge's penalty

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A suspended Marion Superior judge will be able to return to the bench after another 60 days off the bench, this time without pay.

The Indiana Supreme Court issued that decision late Wednesday afternoon, but in doing so expressed wide disagreement about the severity of the sanction. Two justices wanted a one-year suspension for Judge Grant W. Hawkins, while two others would have preferred a 30-day sentence.

Balancing the weight of the case against Judge Hawkins, his colleague's disagreement, and a three-judge panel's recommendation for removal, Justice Brent Dickson was the sole member of the court to say the ultimate 60-day suspension was the most appropriate penalty.

The order ends the disciplinary action In the matter of the Hon. Grant. W. Hawkins, No. 49S00-0804-JD-157, which has been ongoing since April 2008. The case came to light in early 2007 after it was learned a wrongfully convicted man sat in prison for nearly two years after DNA testing cleared him of a rape.

After an investigation, the Indiana Commission on Judicial Qualifications filed charges last year that Judge Hawkins' lack of court supervision resulted in case delays leading to the man's longer incarceration. The judge's former Commissioner Nancy Broyles was also charged at that time, but she resigned last year and has been permanently banned from the bench as a result of this case.

A three-judge panel and the Indiana Commission on Judicial Qualifications recommended his removal last year after an October hearing, while Judge Hawkins pushed for a suspension with pay. Justices temporarily suspended him Nov. 25 but allowed him to continue earning his state-set $125,647 annual salary while they reached a final decision.

Effective today, the criminal judge who's been presiding over Criminal Division 5 starts this 60-day suspension.

"A suspension from office without pay, regardless of duration, is not a minor sanction," the per curiam opinion said. "Even more than a public reprimand, any such suspension is a significant blemish on a sitting judge's reputation."

Despite that resolution, though, only three judges were in the majority agreeing that this would be an adequate resolution.

Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard and Justice Frank Sullivan wanted a yearlong suspension without pay based on the serious nature of the case and a panel's recommendation for removal.

The chief justice wrote in his own dissent, "A suspension of (60) days is not an adequate sanction for a judge whose disorganization and indifference caused a man wrongly to sit in prison for two years.

"This is not a story of about an isolated error of omission, of which any of us can be guilty of from time to time," he wrote. "Rather, the evidence reflects a series of failures under circumstances that afforded many reminders and alerts. These did not avail because Judge Hawkins' office was a place where family phone calls went unheeded and letters went to the wastebasket."

He aligned with Justice Sullivan, who noted that while the wheels of justice sometimes turn slowly for good reason, this wasn't the case because the delay was entirely because Judge Hawkins didn't give the case adequate attention.

On the other hand, Justice Theodore Boehm wrote a dissenting opinion that Justice Robert D. Rucker concurred with - that they preferred a lesser penalty because the trial judge didn't intentionally do anything wrong and because he'd already been suspended for more than three months

"I believe that this record establishes that Judge Hawkins is guilty of nothing more than excessive reliance on others and failure to have good procedures to control the flow of cases," Justice Boehm wrote, describing a suspension without pay for more than a few weeks often is tantamount to a forced resignation. "In my view, a (30) day suspension is a very substantial sanction and the most that these facts warrant. I nonetheless agree that a suspension of (60) days is the proper disposition of this case, given that a majority favors a suspension for that period or longer."

Indianapolis attorney Kevin McGoff, who represented Judge Hawkins, said the judge is relieved to have this behind him and returning to the bench after this 60 days.

"This represents how the system works and that our justices operate independently and have their own opinions but can respectfully disagree and come to a resolution," he said. "I think that our courts have a healthy debate, and this is evidence of that."

More coverage of this case will be in the March 18-31, 2009, issue of Indiana Lawyer.

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  1. I like the concept. Seems like a good idea and really inexpensive to manage.

  2. I don't agree that this is an extreme case. There are more of these people than you realize - people that are vindictive and/or with psychological issues have clogged the system with baseless suits that are costly to the defendant and to taxpayers. Restricting repeat offenders from further abusing the system is not akin to restricting their freedon, but to protecting their victims, and the court system, from allowing them unfettered access. From the Supreme Court opinion "he has burdened the opposing party and the courts of this state at every level with massive, confusing, disorganized, defective, repetitive, and often meritless filings."

  3. So, if you cry wolf one too many times courts may "restrict" your ability to pursue legal action? Also, why is document production equated with wealth? Anyone can "produce probably tens of thousands of pages of filings" if they have a public library card. I understand this is an extreme case, but our Supreme Court really got this one wrong.

  4. He called our nation a nation of cowards because we didn't want to talk about race. That was a cheap shot coming from the top cop. The man who decides who gets the federal government indicts. Wow. Not a gentleman if that is the measure. More importantly, this insult delivered as we all understand, to white people-- without him or anybody needing to explain that is precisely what he meant-- but this is an insult to timid white persons who fear the government and don't want to say anything about race for fear of being accused a racist. With all the legal heat that can come down on somebody if they say something which can be construed by a prosecutor like Mr Holder as racist, is it any wonder white people-- that's who he meant obviously-- is there any surprise that white people don't want to talk about race? And as lawyers we have even less freedom lest our remarks be considered violations of the rules. Mr Holder also demonstrated his bias by publically visiting with the family of the young man who was killed by a police offering in the line of duty, which was a very strong indicator of bias agains the offer who is under investigation, and was a failure to lead properly by letting his investigators do their job without him predetermining the proper outcome. He also has potentially biased the jury pool. All in all this worsens race relations by feeding into the perception shared by whites as well as blacks that justice will not be impartial. I will say this much, I do not blame Obama for all of HOlder's missteps. Obama has done a lot of things to stay above the fray and try and be a leader for all Americans. Maybe he should have reigned Holder in some but Obama's got his hands full with other problelms. Oh did I mention HOlder is a bank crony who will probably get a job in a silkstocking law firm working for millions of bucks a year defending bankers whom he didn't have the integrity or courage to hold to account for their acts of fraud on the United States, other financial institutions, and the people. His tenure will be regarded by history as a failure of leadership at one of the most important jobs in our nation. Finally and most importantly besides him insulting the public and letting off the big financial cheats, he has been at the forefront of over-prosecuting the secrecy laws to punish whistleblowers and chill free speech. What has Holder done to vindicate the rights of privacy of the American public against the illegal snooping of the NSA? He could have charged NSA personnel with violations of law for their warrantless wiretapping which has been done millions of times and instead he did not persecute a single soul. That is a defalcation of historical proportions and it signals to the public that the government DOJ under him was not willing to do a damn thing to protect the public against the rapid growth of the illegal surveillance state. Who else could have done this? Nobody. And for that omission Obama deserves the blame too. Here were are sliding into a police state and Eric Holder made it go all the faster.

  5. JOE CLAYPOOL candidate for Superior Court in Harrison County - Indiana This candidate is misleading voters to think he is a Judge by putting Elect Judge Joe Claypool on his campaign literature. paragraphs 2 and 9 below clearly indicate this injustice to voting public to gain employment. What can we do? Indiana Code - Section 35-43-5-3: Deception (a) A person who: (1) being an officer, manager, or other person participating in the direction of a credit institution, knowingly or intentionally receives or permits the receipt of a deposit or other investment, knowing that the institution is insolvent; (2) knowingly or intentionally makes a false or misleading written statement with intent to obtain property, employment, or an educational opportunity; (3) misapplies entrusted property, property of a governmental entity, or property of a credit institution in a manner that the person knows is unlawful or that the person knows involves substantial risk of loss or detriment to either the owner of the property or to a person for whose benefit the property was entrusted; (4) knowingly or intentionally, in the regular course of business, either: (A) uses or possesses for use a false weight or measure or other device for falsely determining or recording the quality or quantity of any commodity; or (B) sells, offers, or displays for sale or delivers less than the represented quality or quantity of any commodity; (5) with intent to defraud another person furnishing electricity, gas, water, telecommunication, or any other utility service, avoids a lawful charge for that service by scheme or device or by tampering with facilities or equipment of the person furnishing the service; (6) with intent to defraud, misrepresents the identity of the person or another person or the identity or quality of property; (7) with intent to defraud an owner of a coin machine, deposits a slug in that machine; (8) with intent to enable the person or another person to deposit a slug in a coin machine, makes, possesses, or disposes of a slug; (9) disseminates to the public an advertisement that the person knows is false, misleading, or deceptive, with intent to promote the purchase or sale of property or the acceptance of employment;

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