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Senior judge accused of misconduct

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The Indiana Commission on Judicial Qualifications has filed five charges against a senior judge and former LaPorte Superior Court judge, alleging he violated ethics rules while serving as an elected judge.

According to charges filed today, in 2001, Senior Judge Walter P. Chapala suspended 18 years of a 20-year sentence of a defendant in exchange for a $100,000 donation to two court programs from the defendant's father.

The second allegation stems from a 2004 case in which the judge, while presiding over the criminal case of his daughter-in-law's nephew, ordered the nephew released from a "hold" in Michigan relating to felony charges he faced in that state. After the LaPorte County Sheriff's Department lawfully returned the nephew to Michigan authorities, Senior Judge Chapala began contempt proceedings against the sheriff of LaPorte County. He dismissed the contempt only after the sheriff apologized to the judge. Despite the judge's relationship with the nephew, he continued to preside over the case.

In the five counts filed against the senior judge, he's accused of violating Cannons 1A and 2A of the Code of Judicial Conduct, which requires judges to uphold the integrity of the judicial office; Cannon 2B, which prohibits a judge from lending the prestige of the office to advance their own private interests or of others, and prohibits a judge from allowing family or other relationships to influence a judge's judicial conduct; Canon 3B(2), which requires judges to be faithful to the law and not be swayed by partisan interests; Canon 3B(8), which prohibits ex parte contacts; Canon 3B(9), which requires judges to dispose of all judicial matters fairly; and Canon 3E(1), which requires judges to disqualify themselves from proceedings when their impartiality may be questioned.

The counts also allege Senior Judge Chapala committed conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice and willful misconduct in office.

Bingham McHale attorney Kevin P. McGoff, who is representing Senior Judge Chapala, declined to discuss the charges, saying he just received them today. The judge has confidence in the process and he'll want to see it through, McGoff said.

Senior Judge Chapala took the bench in 1991 and became a senior judge in 2005. According to the Indiana Roll of Attorneys, he was admitted to practice in 1970. The senior judge has 20 days to file an answer to the charges and upon his filing, three masters will be appointed by the Indiana Supreme Court to conduct a public hearing on the charges.

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