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Masters call for Marion Superior judge's removal

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A three-judge panel is recommending that a Marion Superior judge be removed from the bench for judicial misconduct.

In a 70-page report filed Thursday and released today in the case of In the Matter of The Hon. Grant W. Hawkins, No. 49S00-0804-JD-0157, the masters found that Judge Hawkins violated canons and committed 10 counts of judicial misconduct relating to how he supervised his court.

The Indiana Judicial Qualifications Commission had filed charges in April accusing him and former Commissioner Nancy Broyles of misconduct, which in large part led to a pattern of case delays and one that resulted in a wrongfully convicted man, Harold Buntin, being kept in prison almost two years after DNA cleared him of a crime. She has since voluntarily resigned and was permanently banned from the bench, and the panel conducted a two-day hearing for the judge in early October.

That panel - Delaware Circuit Judge Marianne Vorhees, Lake Superior Judge Clarence Murray, and Elkhart Circuit Judge Terry Shewmaker - had until Nov. 24 to issue its findings and recommendations to the court.

At his hearing, Judge Hawkins told the masters that he greatly regrets what happened and vowed to make sure the process is more closely monitored and scrutinized in his courtroom. Drastic changes have already been implemented, he said.

The masters acknowledged his apology and remorse, but they said this case called for a more serious sanction. The masters would have recommended a suspension without pay because of how he generally handled the post-conviction relief issues if it weren't for what resulted in the Buntin case.

The masters don't believe that Judge Hawkins intended to deceive, mislead, or hide anything during the investigation, but that he negligently made misrepresentations caused by his failure to fully investigate the situation. He then failed to correct those misimpressions he and his staff gave - and that failure is the same as the judge deliberately setting out to deceive the commission and the public, the masters wrote.

"We reach these conclusions with great regret and after much thought and do not make this recommendation lightly," the panel wrote. "As trial judges, we know too well how difficult our jobs are, how many demands we have on our time and attention, and how easy it is to make mistakes. The Masters believe, however, the mistakes made in this case were so critical, the loss of liberty so significant, and the Judge's response so lacking, that we as trial judges would not carry out our duty as Masters unless we called for a significant sanction."

A court employee told Indiana Lawyer this morning that Judge Hawkins was on the bench and not immediately available for comment by deadline for this story. His attorney Kevin McGoff with Bingham McHale also couldn't be immediately reached.

Judge Hawkins has been on the Superior 5 bench since 2001. The Indiana Supreme Court has the ultimate say on what sanctions, if any, Judge Hawkins will receive. Sanctions could range from a private or public reprimand to removal.

Justices may receive the case for consideration by the end of the year or early next year following the procedural response times from both sides, according to commission counsel Meg Babcock. Once that happens, justices aren't obligated to issue a decision on any specific timeline.

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