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Justices order Marion County traffic judge's suspension

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The Indiana Supreme Court ordered the suspension of the Marion County traffic judge who’s admitted he imposed excessive fines and treated people unfairly in his court partly because he wanted to discourage future litigants from exercising their constitutional right to trial.

In a unanimous order dated Tuesday, the state justices ordered that Marion Superior Judge William E. Young be suspended for 30 days without pay. The 48-page document that includes a one-page order accepting agreed discipline and 10-page statement of circumstances culminates a disciplinary action that has been ongoing for four months but involves the judge’s conduct going back to January 2009.

A full opinion on this matter will be issued at a later time detailing when the suspension takes effect, according to Supreme Court’s public information officer Kathryn Dolan. The order says the judge must also pay costs associated with the proceedings.

A disciplinary hearing before three master commissioners had been scheduled for Dec. 8, but this agreed discipline cancels the need for that hearing. Short of the court opinion outlining the final details, this disciplinary sanction effectively closes a chapter on a local judge who in the past year has been reversed by the state’s highest appellate courts, criticized by those higher jurists on more than one occasion for his practices and conduct, sued by litigants who’ve claimed unfair treatment and excessive fines in his court, and prompted legislative outrage and a revision to state law that now caps the amount judges can impose for traffic fines.

The Indiana Commission on Judicial Qualifications in July formally charged the trial judge with misconduct on allegations that he “engaged in a practice of imposing substantially higher penalties against traffic court litigants who chose to have trials and lost,” and that Judge Young “routinely made statements implying that litigants should not demand trials and would be penalized for doing so if they lost.”

Specifically, the commission detailed the judge’s alleged misconduct in the 2009 case of Christian Hollinsworth, who police pulled over in August 2007 for speeding. The case ultimately went to a bench trial last year before Judge Young.

Just before the trial started, Hollinsworth’s attorney asked for a brief recess to "sign off" on a plea agreement, but no agreement was reached. The lawyer asked for a continuance, and Judge Young denied that and then wouldn't allow a plea after Hollinsworth informed the court she would accept one and didn't want to proceed to trial.

Court records show that Judge Young "exhibited impatience" during trial by citing the time and his "full afternoon" docket when talking to Hollinsworth about a plea agreement, then told her, "I don't know if I want to take your plea. I'd rather just go to trial, I think. I don't like being jerked around at all, all right?" At sentencing, Judge Young noted that Hollinsworth had other pending charges on theft and battery. Her attorney said those were alleged charges, to which the judge responded, "Sure they are."

Hollinsworth received a year in county jail and her driving privileges were suspended for an additional 365 days. The judge also found her to be indigent and didn't impose any additional fines or penalties on the speeding conviction.

According to the Judicial Qualifications allegations, the judge “exhibited impatience and frustration” with Hollinsworth and her attorney, and he made “sarcastic remarks” while insisting that the trial move forward despite the litigant’s objection.

The Indiana Supreme Court reversed that conviction on June 3 and ordered a new trial in the case of Hollinsworth v. State, No. 49S02-1006-CR-286, pointing specifically to Judge Young’s behavior that violated three judicial conduct canons requiring impartiality, patience, unbiased behavior, and recusal if a judge’s impartiality might be questioned.

“The trial court’s behavior in this case did not meet these standards,” the justices wrote.

In the statement of circumstances issued this week, Judge Young agreed to the stipulated facts that included how he imposed substantially higher fines against unsuccessful litigants who’d insisted on trials because “he believed that those litigants shouldn’t have pursued trials and, in part, because he wanted to discourage other litigants from exercising their constitutional rights to trials.”

The document also notes the judge routinely did not consider specific circumstances of each case, such as a person’s driving record, in deciding how someone should be fined after they’d argued their case before him and lost.

“Judge Young acknowledges that he should impose the penalty based on an individualized assessment of the litigant and the particular case, even in traffic infraction cases,” the statement says. “Judge Young affirms to the community that he will do so on all future cases in which there is discretion to the penalty imposed as part of the judgment and will give appropriate consideration to each litigant’s specific circumstances.”

Read more about traffic court issues in Indiana in the latest issue of Indiana Lawyer.

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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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