ILNews

Retired judge overturned based on bias shown on bench

Back to TopE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

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.
 

ADVERTISEMENT

Sponsored by
ADVERTISEMENT
Subscribe to Indiana Lawyer
  1. Indiana's seatbelt law is not punishable as a crime. It is an infraction. Apparently some of our Circuit judges have deemed settled law inapplicable if it fails to fit their litmus test of political correctness. Extrapolating to redefine terms of behavior in a violation of immigration law to the entire body of criminal law leaves a smorgasbord of opportunity for judicial mischief.

  2. I wonder if $10 diversions for failure to wear seat belts are considered moral turpitude in federal immigration law like they are under Indiana law? Anyone know?

  3. What a fine article, thank you! I can testify firsthand and by detailed legal reports (at end of this note) as to the dire consequences of rejecting this truth from the fine article above: "The inclusion and expansion of this right [to jury] in Indiana’s Constitution is a clear reflection of our state’s intention to emphasize the importance of every Hoosier’s right to make their case in front of a jury of their peers." Over $20? Every Hoosier? Well then how about when your very vocation is on the line? How about instead of a jury of peers, one faces a bevy of political appointees, mini-czars, who care less about due process of the law than the real czars did? Instead of trial by jury, trial by ideological ordeal run by Orwellian agents? Well that is built into more than a few administrative law committees of the Ind S.Ct., and it is now being weaponized, as is revealed in articles posted at this ezine, to root out post moderns heresies like refusal to stand and pledge allegiance to all things politically correct. My career was burned at the stake for not so saluting, but I think I was just one of the early logs. Due, at least in part, to the removal of the jury from bar admission and bar discipline cases, many more fires will soon be lit. Perhaps one awaits you, dear heretic? Oh, at that Ind. article 12 plank about a remedy at law for every damage done ... ah, well, the founders evidently meant only for those damages done not by the government itself, rabid statists that they were. (Yes, that was sarcasm.) My written reports available here: Denied petition for cert (this time around): http://tinyurl.com/zdmawmw Denied petition for cert (from the 2009 denial and five year banishment): http://tinyurl.com/zcypybh Related, not written by me: Amicus brief: http://tinyurl.com/hvh7qgp

  4. Justice has finally been served. So glad that Dr. Ley can finally sleep peacefully at night knowing the truth has finally come to the surface.

  5. While this right is guaranteed by our Constitution, it has in recent years been hampered by insurance companies, i.e.; the practice of the plaintiff's own insurance company intervening in an action and filing a lien against any proceeds paid to their insured. In essence, causing an additional financial hurdle for a plaintiff to overcome at trial in terms of overall award. In a very real sense an injured party in exercise of their right to trial by jury may be the only party in a cause that would end up with zero compensation.

ADVERTISEMENT