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Suspended LaPorte judge acquitted at trial

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A suspended LaPorte Superior judge has been acquitted of any criminal charges involving an accidental shooting where her head was grazed by a bullet and led to accusations that she tried to cover up details about what happened.

But three judicial misconduct charges remain pending against Judge Jennifer Evans-Koethe. In a response to the Indiana Commission on Judicial Qualifications, she denies intentionally trying to cover up evidence and blames her head wound for affecting her memory and what she said immediately after the Dec. 22, 2008, incident.

Judge Koethe was a judge-elect when she was shot in the head in her home, shortly before taking the bench in January 2009. At the time of the incident, there were discrepancies as to how the judge was shot. Judge Koethe originally told authorities she accidentally shot herself and didn't know where the gun was located. She later told a detective at the hospital she put the gun to her head to scare her husband but didn't know it was loaded when it fired.

She also told a detective she wrote a note to her husband and asked him to get rid of it. That request led to a grand jury indictment. As a result, Koethe faced criminal charges of felony attempted obstruction of justice. The trial was transferred to Lake Superior Court, and a jury found her not guilty Jan. 5.

Even with the not-guilty finding the judge, who's been suspended since May 11, still faces judicial discipline charges that could lead to a reprimand, unpaid suspension, or possibly removal from the bench. The Indiana Commission on Judicial Qualifications filed charges against her in December, accusing her of deliberately withholding or misrepresenting pertinent information during taped statements and violating professional conduct rules by asking a police officer to destroy potential evidence.

In her response Jan. 8, the judge denies being asked about the whereabouts of her handgun when police came to her home in response to the shooting, and said she had no recollection of being questioned there. At trial, a police officer testified that both she and her husband said they "didn't know" where the gun was, although it was later found hidden in a laundry basket in a bedroom closet.

"However, she has been informed and believes, and therefore admits, that she spoke such words as those attributed to her," her response says.

The response also denies deliberately omitting disclosure of the note in a recorded statement.

James Fenton, the Fort Wayne attorney representing her on the discipline charges, could not be reached for comment prior to deadline for this story.

The Indiana Supreme Court will appoint three special masters by mid-February to hear the evidence and submit a report to the justices for consideration on what, if any, discipline should be imposed. Justices have final say on that.

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  3. Father's rights? What about a mothers rights? A child's rights? Taking a child from the custody of the mother for political reasons! A miscarriage of justice! What about the welfare of the child? Has anyone considered parent alienation, the father can't erase the mother from the child's life. This child loves the mother and the home in Wisconsin, friends, school and family. It is apparent the father hates his ex-wife more than he loves his child! I hope there will be a Guardian Ad Litem, who will spend time with and get to know the child, BEFORE being brainwashed by the father. This is not just a child! A little person with rights and real needs, a stable home and a parent that cares enough to let this child at least finish the school year, where she is happy and comfortable! Where is the justice?

  4. "The commission will review applications and interview qualified candidates in March and April." Riiiiiight. Would that be the same vaulted process that brought us this result done by "qualified candidates"? http://www.theindianalawyer.com/justices-deny-transfer-to-child-custody-case/PARAMS/article/42774 Perhaps a lottery system more like the draft would be better? And let us not limit it to Indiana attorneys so as to give the untainted a fighting chance?

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