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Supreme Court suspends judge for 30 days

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A 30-day unpaid suspension begins next week for Marion Superior Traffic Judge William Young, though the chief justice expects the Indiana Supreme Court would have issued a lengthier sanction if a settlement had not been reached in the misconduct case.

The Indiana Supreme Court issued a decision late Monday in the disciplinary case of In The Matter of William E. Young, No. 49S00-1007-JD-374, a procedural step after the court imposed the penalty on Nov. 23, 2010, when the judge and Indiana Judicial Qualifications Commission reached a settlement. Justices then took nearly three months to issue this ruling that sets a date and outlines the rationale.

Last summer, the Indiana Commission on Judicial Qualifications formally charged Judge Young with misconduct based on allegations that he engaged in a practice of “imposing substantially higher penalties against traffic court litigants who chose to have trials and lost,” and that Judge Young “routinely made statements implying that litigants should not demand trials and would be penalized for doing so if they lost.”

Specifically, the commission detailed the judge’s alleged misconduct in the 2009 case of Christian Hollinsworth, who police pulled over in August 2007 for speeding. The case ultimately went to a bench trial in 2009 before Judge Young.

Just before the trial started, Hollinsworth’s attorney asked for a brief recess to "sign off" on a plea agreement, but no agreement was reached. The lawyer asked for a continuance, and Judge Young denied that and would not allow a plea after Hollinsworth informed the court she would accept one and didn't want to proceed to trial.

Court records show that Judge Young "exhibited impatience" during trial by citing the time and his "full afternoon" docket when talking to Hollinsworth about a plea agreement. He told her, "I don't know if I want to take your plea. I'd rather just go to trial, I think. I don't like being jerked around at all, all right?"

At sentencing, Judge Young noted that Hollinsworth had other pending charges on theft and battery. Her attorney pointed out that those were alleged charges, to which the judge responded, "Sure they are."

Hollinsworth received a year in county jail and her driving privileges were suspended for an additional 365 days. The judge also found her to be indigent and didn't impose any additional fines or penalties on the speeding conviction.

According to the allegations, the judge “exhibited impatience and frustration” with Hollinsworth and her attorney and made “sarcastic remarks” while insisting that the trial move forward despite the litigant’s objection.

The Indiana Supreme Court reversed Hollinsworth’s conviction in June 2010 and ordered a new trial in the case of Hollinsworth v. State, No. 49S02-1006-CR-286, pointing specifically to Judge Young’s behavior that violated three judicial conduct canons requiring impartiality, patience, unbiased behavior, and recusal if a judge’s impartiality might be questioned.

Citing that case in its suspension order, the Supreme Court recognized that Judge Young has not been previously disciplined and that he cooperated with the commission during its investigation and prosecution. The court also noted that the judge admitted that most of his conduct violated the judicial code and he is committed to changing his behavior.

The court cited two judicial disciplinary decisions from the past two years – Matter of Koethe, 922 N.E. 2d 613, 616 (Ind. 2010), and Matter of Hawkins, 902 N.E. 2d 231, 246 (Ind. 2009) - to point out that even reprimands create a “significant blemish on a sitting judge’s reputation.”

Aside from the unpaid suspension, the court also ordered Judge Young to pay any costs of this proceeding as part of his penalty.

Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard concurred in result, but wrote, “I would expect that in the absence of a settlement, this case should have resulted in a lengthier suspension. The per curiam understates the willfulness of the Respondent’s conduct and the damage it has done to the public standing of the judiciary. Fortunately, the overwhelming number of Indiana’s judicial officers strive demonstratably toward a much higher standard. Still, as in other litigation settings, there is much to be said for the benefits of settlement, so I have joined in approving the agreement tendered by the parties.”
 

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