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Special masters named in judge's disciplinary case

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The Indiana Supreme Court has appointed three trial judges as special masters to preside over the disciplinary case of one of their city court colleagues from Lake County, who is accused of operating an illegal traffic school, dismissing cases without assessing required fees, and dissuading one litigant from contesting a seatbelt violation in court.

An order dated Monday names Vigo Circuit/Superior Judge David Bolk, Clark Superior Judge Vicki Carmichael, and Hamilton Circuit Judge Paul Felix to consider the case against Hammond City Judge Jeffrey A. Harkin.

The Indiana Judicial Qualifications Commission accuses Judge Harkin of violating three professional conduct rules: two charges involve his operation of a long-established traffic school deferral program and not collecting fees between 2005 and 2010, while a third charge involves an August 2010 seatbelt violation case where a defendant alleged the judge made inappropriate comments to him and dissuaded him from contesting the ticket in court.

Through his attorney David Weigle in Hammond, Judge Harkin filed an answer Aug. 12 denying the allegations and contending that he did nothing wrong. The judge’s answer says he cannot recall the litigant’s specific demeanor at the time and can’t speak to what the man might have “felt” about the judge’s attitude, but he remembers giving the man a chance to make his defense in court.

As to the traffic school allegations, Judge Harkin said he believes that he acted appropriately given his judicial authority to dismiss a case using the program, and that although it may not be specifically listed in state statute, nothing specifically prohibits judges from using these types of deferral programs. The traffic school has existed for decades and prior judges and prosecutors have known about and used it in the same way over time without anyone raising concern, according to the answer.

The three special masters have until mid-October to submit a schedule for the disciplinary proceedings, with a final report completed by Jan. 25, 2012. The state’s justices have final authority on any agreement or disciplinary decision, and if any misconduct is found they’d be responsible for any sanctions deemed necessary.
 

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