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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. Indianapolis Bar Association President John Trimble and I are on the same page, but it is a very large page with plenty of room for others to join us. As my final Res Gestae article will express in more detail in a few days, the Great Recession hastened a fundamental and permanent sea change for the global legal service profession. Every state bar is facing the same existential questions that thrust the medical profession into national healthcare reform debates. The bench, bar, and law schools must comprehensively reconsider how we define the practice of law and what it means to access justice. If the three principals of the legal service profession do not recast the vision of their roles and responsibilities soon, the marketplace will dictate those roles and responsibilities without regard for the public interests that the legal profession professes to serve.

  2. I have met some highly placed bureaucrats who vehemently disagree, Mr. Smith. This is not your father's time in America. Some ideas are just too politically incorrect too allow spoken, says those who watch over us for the good of their concept of order.

  3. Lets talk about this without forgetting that Lawyers, too, have FREEDOM OF SPEECH AND ASSOCIATION

  4. Baer filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals Seventh Circuit on April 30 2015. When will this be decided? How many more appeals does this guy have? Unbelievable this is dragging on like this.

  5. They ruled there is no absolute right to keep a license, whether it be for a lifetime or a short period of time. So with that being said, this state taught me at the age of 15 how to obtain that license. I am actually doing something that I was taught to do, I'm not breaking the law breaking the rules and according to the Interstate Compact the National Interstate Compact...driving while suspended is a minor offense. So, do with that what you will..Indiana sucks when it comes to the driving laws, they really and truly need to reevaluate their priorities and honestly put the good of the community first... I mean, what's more important the pedophile drug dealer or wasting time and money to keep us off the streets?

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