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Suspended judge faces disciplinary charges

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The Indiana Commission on Judicial Qualifications has filed charges against the suspended LaPorte Superior judge who was shot in the head just before taking the bench this year.

The Judicial Qualifications Commission has charged Judge Jennifer Evans Koethe with three counts: violating Canon 2A of the 2008 Judicial Code of Conduct and Rule 1.2 of the 2009 Judicial Code of Conduct for withholding or misrepresenting pertinent information during taped statements with officials; violating Canons 1 and 2A of the 2008 code for asking a police officer destroy a handwritten note that was potential evidence in an official investigation; and violating Rules 8.4(b), (c), and (d) of the Rules of Professional Conduct by asking the officer to destroy the note.

Judge Koethe was the elected judge for Superior 3 when she was grazed in the head by a bullet from her 9mm handgun in late December 2008. At first, the judge said she accidentally shot herself and didn't know where the gun was. She later told a detective at the hospital that she put the gun to her head to scare her husband into thinking was going to kill herself, but she didn't know the gun was loaded when she fired it. She also told the detective she wrote a note to her husband on the back of a store box and asked him to get rid of it.

Judge Koethe deliberately omitted from her Dec. 23 statement that she went into the bedroom and wrote her husband a personal note before getting the gun. In her Jan. 9 statement, she contradicted statements from her Dec. 23 statement, including she thought the gun was unloaded because she removed the bullets from it, denying she put the gun up to her head, and instead said it accidentally went off when she picked the gun up off the bed. She then denied knowing about the location of the gun or the note.

Her husband, Stephan, admitted he hid the gun and the note when his wife was in the room.

The judge was indicted for attempted obstruction of justice as a Class D felony in May and has been suspended with pay since May 11, earning nearly $74,000 while off the bench. Her trial is scheduled for Jan. 4, 2010, before Special Judge Thomas Stefaniak of Lake Superior Court. According to Supreme Court spokesperson Kathryn Dolan, Judge Koethe is the first judge charged with a felony in Indiana since the 1980s.

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