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Rehearing: Traffic judge denies misconduct

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Indiana Lawyer Rehearing

Hammond City Judge Jeffrey A. Harkin denies that he did anything wrong in operating what may be a long-established but illegal traffic school deferral program and dismissing cases without assessing required fees. He also contends that he did not try to dissuade one litigant from contesting a seatbelt violation in court.

On Aug. 12, Hammond attorney David Weigle filed a permissive answer in response to charges filed in June against Judge Harkin, accusing the jurist who’s been on the bench for a decade of violating three professional conduct rules.

Two of the professional misconduct charges involve Judge Harkin’s operation of a traffic school deferral program, which only the prosecutor is legally allowed to operate, and then conditionally dismissing infractions because of that attendance. Hammond City Court traffic school was usually taught by city police officers, and the complaint says the judge would tell litigants their case would be dismissed without any points being assessed on their driver’s licenses if they paid an administrative fee and completed traffic school.

An estimated $180,000 in fees should have been distributed to the state and county between January 2010 and March 2011, based on hundreds of litigants, according to the charging document. The complaint says that Judge Harkin continued operating the program despite annual warnings from the State Board of Accounts from 2005 to 2010.

The third misconduct charge involves an August 2010 seatbelt violation case where defendant Matthew Aubrey alleged the judge made inappropriate comments to him and dissuaded him from contesting the ticket in court.

In his answer, Judge Harkin denies making any statements or acting the way Aubrey described, though he cannot recall the litigant’s specific demeanor at the time and can’t speak to what the man might have “felt” about the judge’s attitude. He recalls giving Aubrey a chance to make his defense after stating the trial date.

As to the traffic school allegations, Judge Harkin said he believes that he acted appropriately given his judicial authority to dismiss a case using the program, and that although it may not be specifically listed in state statute, nothing specifically prohibits judges from using these types of deferral programs. The traffic school has existed for decades and prior judges and prosecutors have known about and used it in the same way over time without anyone raising concern, according to the answer.

Although the judge concedes that the traffic court’s stamp on cases might be misleading and lead litigants to think a “judgment” had been issued, his answer says entering a judgment has never been his intention and he’s treated the program as a way to defer punishment and dismiss the case.

“Judge Harkin does not claim infallibility in interpreting the law,” the answer states. “But he believed that he acted in accordance with his authority, the long tradition of the program, and the laws of the State of Indiana. The Commission obviously feels otherwise.”

With that answer filed, the Supreme Court can now appoint three masters by mid-September to hear the evidence and conduct a hearing if no settlement is reached. The state’s justices have final authority on any agreement or disciplinary decision, and if any misconduct is found they’d be responsible for any sanctions that might be necessary.

Rehearing: "Hammond traffic judge faces misconduct charges" IL July 6-19, 2011
 

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  1. The $320,000 is the amount the school spent in litigating two lawsuits: One to release the report involving John Trimble (as noted in the story above) and one defending the discrimination lawsuit. The story above does not mention the amount spent to defend the discrimination suit, that's why the numbers don't match. Thanks for reading.

  2. $160k? Yesterday the figure was $320k. Which is it Indiana Lawyer. And even more interesting, which well connected law firm got the (I am guessing) $320k, six time was the fired chancellor received. LOL. (From yesterday's story, which I guess we were expected to forget overnight ... "According to records obtained by the Journal & Courier, Purdue spent $161,812, beginning in July 2012, in a state open records lawsuit and $168,312, beginning in April 2013, for defense in a federal lawsuit. Much of those fees were spent battling court orders to release an independent investigation by attorney John Trimble that found Purdue could have handled the forced retirement better")

  3. The numbers are harsh; 66 - 24 in the House, 40 - 10 in the Senate. And it is an idea pushed by the Democrats. Dead end? Ummm not necessarily. Just need to go big rather than go home. Nuclear option. Give it to the federal courts, the federal courts will ram this down our throats. Like that other invented right of the modern age, feticide. Rights too precious to be held up by 2000 years of civilization hang in the balance. Onward!

  4. I'm currently seeing someone who has a charge of child pornography possession, he didn't know he had it because it was attached to a music video file he downloaded when he was 19/20 yrs old and fought it for years until he couldn't handle it and plead guilty of possession. He's been convicted in Illinois and now lives in Indiana. Wouldn't it be better to give them a chance to prove to the community and their families that they pose no threat? He's so young and now because he was being a kid and downloaded music at a younger age, he has to pay for it the rest of his life? It's unfair, he can't live a normal life, and has to live in fear of what people can say and do to him because of something that happened 10 years ago? No one deserves that, and no one deserves to be labeled for one mistake, he got labeled even though there was no intent to obtain and use the said content. It makes me so sad to see someone I love go through this and it makes me holds me back a lot because I don't know how people around me will accept him...second chances should be given to those under the age of 21 at least so they can be given a chance to live a normal life as a productive member of society.

  5. It's just an ill considered remark. The Sup Ct is inherently political, as it is a core part of government, and Marbury V Madison guaranteed that it would become ever more so Supremely thus. So her remark is meaningless and she just should have not made it.... what she could have said is that Congress is a bunch of lazys and cowards who wont do their jobs so the hard work of making laws clear, oftentimes stops with the Sups sorting things out that could have been resolved by more competent legislation. That would have been a more worthwhile remark and maybe would have had some relevance to what voters do, since voters cant affect who gets appointed to the supremely un-democratic art III courts.

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