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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. You can put your photos anywhere you like... When someone steals it they know it doesn't belong to them. And, a man getting a divorce is automatically not a nice guy...? That's ridiculous. Since when is need of money a conflict of interest? That would mean that no one should have a job unless they are already financially solvent without a job... A photographer is also under no obligation to use a watermark (again, people know when a photo doesn't belong to them) or provide contact information. Hey, he didn't make it easy for me to pay him so I'll just take it! Well heck, might as well walk out of the grocery store with a cart full of food because the lines are too long and you don't find that convenient. "Only in Indiana." Oh, now you're passing judgement on an entire state... What state do you live in? I need to characterize everyone in your state as ignorant and opinionated. And the final bit of ignorance; assuming a photo anyone would want is lucky and then how much does your camera have to cost to make it a good photo, in your obviously relevant opinion?

  2. Seventh Circuit Court Judge Diane Wood has stated in “The Rule of Law in Times of Stress” (2003), “that neither laws nor the procedures used to create or implement them should be secret; and . . . the laws must not be arbitrary.” According to the American Bar Association, Wood’s quote drives home this point: The rule of law also requires that people can expect predictable results from the legal system; this is what Judge Wood implies when she says that “the laws must not be arbitrary.” Predictable results mean that people who act in the same way can expect the law to treat them in the same way. If similar actions do not produce similar legal outcomes, people cannot use the law to guide their actions, and a “rule of law” does not exist.

  3. Linda, I sure hope you are not seeking a law license, for such eighteenth century sentiments could result in your denial in some jurisdictions minting attorneys for our tolerant and inclusive profession.

  4. Mazel Tov to the newlyweds. And to those bakers, photographers, printers, clerks, judges and others who will lose careers and social standing for not saluting the New World (Dis)Order, we can all direct our Two Minutes of Hate as Big Brother asks of us. Progress! Onward!

  5. My daughter was taken from my home at the end of June/2014. I said I would sign the safety plan but my husband would not. My husband said he would leave the house so my daughter could stay with me but the case worker said no her mind is made up she is taking my daughter. My daughter went to a friends and then the friend filed a restraining order which she was told by dcs if she did not then they would take my daughter away from her. The restraining order was not in effect until we were to go to court. Eventually it was dropped but for 2 months DCS refused to allow me to have any contact and was using the restraining order as the reason but it was not in effect. This was Dcs violating my rights. Please help me I don't have the money for an attorney. Can anyone take this case Pro Bono?

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