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New judge gets 60-day unpaid suspension

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The Indiana Supreme Court has suspended LaPorte Superior Judge Jennifer L. Koethe for 60 days without pay, effective March 12. The judge had already been suspended with pay after she was indicted for attempted obstruction of justice following her accidental shooting in December 2008.

On March 11, the justices accepted the 60-day unpaid suspension proposed by Judge Koethe and the Indiana Commission on Judicial Qualifications in their joint "Statement of Circumstances and Conditional Agreement for Discipline."

In addition to the suspension, Judge Koethe must disqualify herself from presiding in any case in which certain law enforcement officials or any other state witness for her case appeared during her criminal trial.

Judge Koethe was indicted May 7, 2009, on a Class D felony attempted obstruction of justice charge, related to asking a law enforcement officer to get rid of a note she had written to her husband the night of the shooting. She and her husband Stephan had been drinking and got into an argument that night, so she got a gun to make Stephan believe she was suicidal. She accidentally shot herself; she did not think the gun was loaded.

Even though Judge Koethe believed the note wasn't relevant to any crime, she still asked the officer to find it and get rid of it because she was embarrassed by its personal contents.

The Supreme Court suspended Judge Koethe in May with pay per Indiana Admission and Discipline Rule 25(V) (A). In December 2009, the commission charged her with violating the 2008 Judicial Code of Conduct and Rules of Professional Conduct for withholding or misrepresenting pertinent information during taped statements with officials and for asking the officer to destroy the note. A jury acquitted the judge on the felony charge Jan. 5.

In the per curiam opinion, the justices agreed that the proposed suspension is appropriate. While the judge did ask the law enforcement officer to get rid of potential evidence, she did suffer a head wound that may have affected her mental state. Also, she has been cooperative with the commission during its investigation, is remorseful, and has undertaken appropriate measures to address the underlying personal issues that may have contributed to the shooting.

The judge must also satisfy certain therapeutic treatment and reporting requirements as part of her sanction.

"Had this case come to us after a full trial of the merits, we may have found a different penalty appropriate," the per curiam opinion states. "As we stated recently in another matter, 'A suspension from office without pay, regardless of duration, is not a minor sanction. Even more than a public reprimand, any such suspension is a significant blemish on a sitting judge's reputation.'"

Judge Koethe will be automatically reinstated at 12:01 a.m. May 11.

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  2. Hail to our Constitutional Law Expert in the Executive Office! “What you’re not paying attention to is the fact that I just took an action to change the law,” Obama said.

  3. What is this, the Ind Supreme Court thinking that there is a separation of powers and limited enumerated powers as delegated by a dusty old document? Such eighteen century thinking, so rare and unwanted by the elites in this modern age. Dictate to us, dictate over us, the massess are chanting! George Soros agrees. Time to change with times Ind Supreme Court, says all President Snows. Rule by executive decree is the new black.

  4. I made the same argument before a commission of the Indiana Supreme Court and then to the fedeal district and federal appellate courts. Fell flat. So very glad to read that some judges still beleive that evidentiary foundations matter.

  5. KUDOS to the Indiana Supreme Court for realizing that some bureacracies need to go to the stake. Recall what RWR said: "No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this earth!" NOW ... what next to this rare and inspiring chopping block? Well, the Commission on Gender and Race (but not religion!?!) is way overdue. And some other Board's could be cut with a positive for State and the reputation of the Indiana judiciary.

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