ILNews

Retired judge overturned based on bias shown on bench

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The Indiana Supreme Court has ordered a new trial for a convicted child molester because of the conduct from the longtime trial judge, who resigned from the bench in September amid a judicial misconduct investigation.

Justices issued a decision Thursday afternoon in the case of Steven W. Everling v. State of Indiana, No. 48S05-0911-CR-506, reversing the child molesting convictions and 110-year sentence imposed by now-retired Madison Circuit Judge Fredrick R. Spencer. The court described the former judge as being biased against the defendant by barring several defense witnesses during the 2008 trial, helping prosecutors with objections in court, and by repeatedly disparaging and criticizing the man’s Anderson attorney who had previously filed a judicial misconduct complaint against him.

Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard says the record showed “a lack of impartiality,” and he wrote that “the cumulative result of Judge Spencer’s comments, exclusions, and general demeanor toward the defense was a trial below the standard towards which Indiana strives.”

Remanding the case for a new trial, the justices noted this wasn’t the first time Judge Spencer had displayed this kind of behavior on the bench.

“Unfortunately, this is not the first case in which Judge Spencer made inappropriate declarations in a criminal trial,” the chief justice wrote, citing Abernathy v. State, 524 N.E. 2d 12 (Ind. 1988) where the judge had made comments showing bias and impartiality and the justices reversed and remanded for a new trial.

Before stepping down Sept. 25 following a 26-year career on the bench, Judge Spencer had faced a judicial ethics commission investigation into his conduct related to the 2007 murder trial 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. Some public details included allegations 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.

That had been the fifth time in 12 years that Judge Spencer faced a judicial misconduct investigation and received a sanction as a result.

As a result of his resignation last year, the ruling doesn’t mention and there’s no likely disciplinary action that will follow in this case.
 

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  1. I gave tempparry guardship to a friend of my granddaughter in 2012. I went to prison. I had custody. My daughter went to prison to. We are out. My daughter gave me custody but can get her back. She was not order to give me custody . but now we want granddaughter back from friend. She's 14 now. What rights do we have

  2. This sure is not what most who value good governance consider the Rule of Law to entail: "In a letter dated March 2, which Brizzi forwarded to IBJ, the commission dismissed the grievance “on grounds that there is not reasonable cause to believe that you are guilty of misconduct.”" Yet two month later reasonable cause does exist? (Or is the commission forging ahead, the need for reasonable belief be damned? -- A seeming violation of the Rules of Profession Ethics on the part of the commission) Could the rule of law theory cause one to believe that an explanation is in order? Could it be that Hoosier attorneys live under Imperial Law (which is also a t-word that rhymes with infamy) in which the Platonic guardians can do no wrong and never owe the plebeian class any explanation for their powerful actions. (Might makes it right?) Could this be a case of politics directing the commission, as celebrated IU Mauer Professor (the late) Patrick Baude warned was happening 20 years ago in his controversial (whisteblowing) ethics lecture on a quite similar topic: http://www.repository.law.indiana.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1498&context=ilj

  3. I have a case presently pending cert review before the SCOTUS that reveals just how Indiana regulates the bar. I have been denied licensure for life for holding the wrong views and questioning the grand inquisitors as to their duties as to state and federal constitutional due process. True story: https://www.scribd.com/doc/299040839/2016Petitionforcert-to-SCOTUS Shorter, Amici brief serving to frame issue as misuse of govt licensure: https://www.scribd.com/doc/312841269/Thomas-More-Society-Amicus-Brown-v-Ind-Bd-of-Law-Examiners

  4. Here's an idea...how about we MORE heavily regulate the law schools to reduce the surplus of graduates, driving starting salaries up for those new grads, so that we can all pay our insane amount of student loans off in a reasonable amount of time and then be able to afford to do pro bono & low-fee work? I've got friends in other industries, radiology for example, and their schools accept a very limited number of students so there will never be a glut of new grads and everyone's pay stays high. For example, my radiologist friend's school accepted just six new students per year.

  5. I totally agree with John Smith.

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