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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. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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