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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. This law is troubling in two respects: First, why wasn't the law reviewed "with the intention of getting all the facts surrounding the legislation and its actual impact on the marketplace" BEFORE it was passed and signed? Seems a bit backwards to me (even acknowledging that this is the Indiana state legislature we're talking about. Second, what is it with the laws in this state that seem to create artificial monopolies in various industries? Besides this one, the other law that comes to mind is the legislation that governed the granting of licenses to firms that wanted to set up craft distilleries. The licensing was limited to only those entities that were already in the craft beer brewing business. Republicans in this state talk a big game when it comes to being "business friendly". They're friendly alright . . . to certain businesses.

  2. Gretchen, Asia, Roberto, Tonia, Shannon, Cheri, Nicholas, Sondra, Carey, Laura ... my heart breaks for you, reaching out in a forum in which you are ignored by a professional suffering through both compassion fatigue and the love of filthy lucre. Most if not all of you seek a warm blooded Hoosier attorney unafraid to take on the government and plead that government officials have acted unconstitutionally to try to save a family and/or rescue children in need and/or press individual rights against the Leviathan state. I know an attorney from Kansas who has taken such cases across the country, arguing before half of the federal courts of appeal and presenting cases to the US S.Ct. numerous times seeking cert. Unfortunately, due to his zeal for the constitutional rights of peasants and willingness to confront powerful government bureaucrats seemingly violating the same ... he was denied character and fitness certification to join the Indiana bar, even after he was cleared to sit for, and passed, both the bar exam and ethics exam. And was even admitted to the Indiana federal bar! NOW KNOW THIS .... you will face headwinds and difficulties in locating a zealously motivated Hoosier attorney to face off against powerful government agents who violate the constitution, for those who do so tend to end up as marginalized as Paul Odgen, who was driven from the profession. So beware, many are mere expensive lapdogs, the kind of breed who will gladly take a large retainer, but then fail to press against the status quo and powers that be when told to heel to. It is a common belief among some in Indiana that those attorneys who truly fight the power and rigorously confront corruption often end up, actually or metaphorically, in real life or at least as to their careers, as dead as the late, great Gary Welch. All of that said, I wish you the very best in finding a Hoosier attorney with a fighting spirit to press your rights as far as you can, for you do have rights against government actors, no matter what said actors may tell you otherwise. Attorneys outside the elitist camp are often better fighters that those owing the powers that be for their salaries, corner offices and end of year bonuses. So do not be afraid to retain a green horn or unconnected lawyer, many of them are fine men and woman who are yet untainted by the "unique" Hoosier system.

  3. I am not the John below. He is a journalist and talk show host who knows me through my years working in Kansas government. I did no ask John to post the note below ...

  4. "...not those committed in the heat of an argument." If I ever see a man physically abusing a woman or a child and I'm close enough to intercede I will not ask him why he is abusing her/him. I will give him a split second to cease his attack and put his hands in the air while I call the police. If he continues, I will still call the police but to report, "Man down with a gunshot wound,"instead.

  5. And so the therapeutic state is weaonized. How soon until those with ideologies opposing the elite are disarmed in the name of mental health? If it can start anywhere it can start in the hoosiers' slavishly politically correct capital city.

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