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Justices suspend former judge for misconduct

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The Indiana Supreme Court has suspended a northwest Indiana attorney for helping a litigant whose cases he’d presided over more than a decade ago when he was a Jasper Superior judge.

Earlier this week, the state’s highest court issued a 30-day suspension with automatic reinstatement for Rensselaer lawyer Robert V. Monfort, who had served on the Jasper Superior 2 bench from 1994 until that court closed in 2000. This disciplinary action stems from two criminal drunk driving cases Monfort handled in 1998 for a defendant identified as T.W., in which the judge had convicted and sentenced the man to 365 days behind bars.

In 2009, almost a decade after the Superior court’s closure and Monfort had entered private practice, T.W. contacted the former judge to explore the possibility of having those past convictions vacated. Monfort met with the local prosecutor and when the matter later went to court, T.W. filed a petition that said he was acting pro se. But at a hearing on the petition Monfort sat at the counsel table with T.W. and told the presiding judge that he was not representing the man, but rather was just there to “lay the background for the court.” Later at the hearing, T.W. testified that Monfort’s law office had prepared the petition and that he’d paid for the lawyer’s services.

The Supreme Court’s Disciplinary Commission reached an agreement finding that Monfort had violated three Indiana Professional Conduct Rules – 1.12(a) that prohibits attorneys from representing someone in connection with a matter that the lawyer participated in personally and substantially as a judge without the consent of all parties in the proceeding; 3.3(a)(1) that deals with knowingly making a false statement of fact to a tribunal; and 8.4(c) that prohibits attorneys from engaging in conduct involving deceit or misrepresentation. No aggravators were offered, and the parties agreed the mitigators were that Monfort had no disciplinary history since his admission in 1988, that he expressed remorse, and that he cooperated with the Disciplinary Commission.

“The discipline for Respondent’s misconduct would likely be more severe had this matter been submitted without an agreement,” Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard wrote for the unanimous court, not including Justice Steven David who didn’t participate. “However, in light of the Court’s desire to foster resolutions of lawyer disciplinary cases, the Court now APPROVES and orders the agreed discipline.”
Monfort’s month-long suspension begins June 24, according to the order in The Matter of Robert V. Monfort, 37S00-1008-DI-418.

Before opening his criminal and civil general practice as a solo practitioner, Monfort had presided over the short-lived Jasper Superior 2, which was created in 1990. Judge Patricia Riley held that seat until her appointment in 1993 to the Indiana Court of Appeals, and Monfort succeeded her on the bench. But a legislative omnibus spending law passed in 1995 called for closing the court. Monfort sued to keep it open – that case ended up before the state’s Supreme Court and in 2000 the justices held that the legislature has the constitutional authority to abolish a court of general jurisdiction but that it couldn’t be closed before the current presiding judge’s term expired.
 

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  1. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  2. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  3. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  4. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

  5. I am compelled to announce that I am not posting under any Smith monikers here. That said, the post below does have a certain ring to it that sounds familiar to me: http://www.catholicnewworld.com/cnwonline/2014/0907/cardinal.aspx

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