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Madison County judge resigns amid misconduct investigation

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A longtime Madison County judge who's been repeatedly sanctioned and even suspended in the past is resigning amid a new investigation into his alleged misconduct during a 2007 murder trial.

Madison Circuit Judge Frederick Spencer, who's been on the bench for 26 years, is stepping down Friday following months of investigation by the Indiana Commission on Judicial Qualifications.

The judge sent a letter to Gov. Mitch Daniels about his resignation, according to Indiana Supreme Court spokeswoman Kathryn Dolan. That letter says the resignation takes effect at 11:59 p.m. Friday with full benefits, including 60 percent of his salary.

"I have almost 40 years of public service," the judge wrote. "I have served my county, my state, my country and my hometown. I look forward to a less stressful life."

The judicial ethics commission had been investigating Judge Spencer's conduct related to the case of State v. Ward, No. 48C01-0612-MR-00480, in which Kathy Jo Ward was convicted of voluntary manslaughter in the shooting death of her husband while he slept.

Details of that investigation or the judicial conduct issues stemming from the Ward case weren't public at the time Judge Spencer's resignation was announced, but some details have been outlined in press coverage of the investigation. News articles from the Anderson Herald Bulletin earlier this year cite a letter to the judicial commission from an Anderson attorney involved in the Ward case. Allegations are that Judge Spencer initiated ex parte communications concerning matters pending in the court, decided issues prematurely and on the basis of improper considerations, and attempted to deprive a person of her constitutional right to appeal and her statutory right to seek modification of her sentence.

Dolan declined to elaborate on the details leading up to the judge's resignation this week. She said the commission decided to close its investigation in light of Judge Spencer's resignation, and that officials had determined his prompt resignation "was in the best interest of the judiciary and the public."

This is the fifth time in 12 years that Judge Spencer has faced a judicial misconduct investigation and received a sanction as a result:

• In November 2003, Judge Spencer received a 30-day suspension after he appointed a special prosecutor without having a hearing in a 2001 case involving a group of teenagers placing explosives around an attorney's home.

• In December 2001, the judge received a public reprimand by the Indiana Supreme Court after a re-election television ad from the prior year was found to have violated the Code of Judicial Conduct - specifically prohibiting judicial candidates from making promises of conduct in office, from making statements that commit them to issues likely to come before the court, and for failing to maintain the dignity of the office.

• In December 1999, the Judicial Qualifications Commission publicly admonished Judge Spencer for entertaining and granting an ex parte petition for change of child custody without notice to the custodial father and for failing to communicate with a Florida judge who had assumed jurisdiction over the case.

• In October 1997, the commission sent a private letter to Judge Spencer after its investigation into a complaint about his alleged ex parte communications.

The online appellate docket also shows Judge Spencer has had 14 recusal or writ requests filed against him on various cases.

Multiple claims have come up in recent years about Judge Spencer's conduct during criminal proceedings, and local lawyers have made multiple requests for recusals and publicly stated they could not receive a fair trial for their clients in front of the judge. The issues have surfaced in rulings from the Indiana Court of Appeals, and were brought up by the judge's opponent in the November 2006 election.

The Ward case that led to the judicial investigation remains ongoing in the post-conviction relief phase, and it's been moved to Madison Superior Judge Thomas Newman's courtroom. Judge Spencer had sentenced Ward to 30 years in prison, and the Indiana Court of Appeals in April 2008 upheld her sentence. Attorneys expect a hearing within the next couple of months on a petition to modify her sentence.

In his early 70s, Judge Spencer has been practicing since 1971 and first took the bench in 1983. He won his latest re-election in 2006 and his term was set to expire in 2012. The Indiana Supreme Court today appointed Senior Judge Jack L. Brinkman to serve as Judge Pro Tem until the governor names someone to fill the vacancy until the next election. Judge Brinkman reitred from Madison Superior Court 2 at the end of 2008.

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  1. Linda, I sure hope you are not seeking a law license, for such eighteenth century sentiments could result in your denial in some jurisdictions minting attorneys for our tolerant and inclusive profession.

  2. Mazel Tov to the newlyweds. And to those bakers, photographers, printers, clerks, judges and others who will lose careers and social standing for not saluting the New World (Dis)Order, we can all direct our Two Minutes of Hate as Big Brother asks of us. Progress! Onward!

  3. My daughter was taken from my home at the end of June/2014. I said I would sign the safety plan but my husband would not. My husband said he would leave the house so my daughter could stay with me but the case worker said no her mind is made up she is taking my daughter. My daughter went to a friends and then the friend filed a restraining order which she was told by dcs if she did not then they would take my daughter away from her. The restraining order was not in effect until we were to go to court. Eventually it was dropped but for 2 months DCS refused to allow me to have any contact and was using the restraining order as the reason but it was not in effect. This was Dcs violating my rights. Please help me I don't have the money for an attorney. Can anyone take this case Pro Bono?

  4. If justice is not found in a court room, it's time to clean house!!! Even judges are accountable to a higher Judge!!!

  5. The small claims system, based on my recent and current usage of it, is not exactly a shining example of justice prevailing. The system appears slow and clunky and people involved seem uninterested in actually serving justice within a reasonable time frame. Any improvement in accountability and performance would gain a vote from me. Speaking of voting, what do the people know about judges and justice from the bench perspective. I think they have a tendency to "vote" for judges based on party affiliation or name coolness factor (like Stoner, for example!). I don't know what to do in my current situation other than grin and bear it, but my case is an example of things working neither smoothly, effectively nor expeditiously. After this experience I'd pay more to have the higher courts hear the case -- if I had the money. Oh the conundrum.

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