An Allen County judge has publicly expressed his deep regret for failing to control his emotions late last year when he verbally berated members of a defendant’s family following a sentencing hearing.
Allen Superior Judge Kenneth R. Scheibenberger filed a formal answer Aug. 8 to the charges lodged against him July 15 by the Indiana Commission on Judicial Qualifications. The judicial disciplinary body has charged him with four counts of misconduct for his behavior in a fellow jurist’s courtroom in November.
At that time, Judge Scheibenberger suspended his court session and went to Allen Superior Judge Frances Gull’s courtroom to watch a sentencing hearing. He sat in the gallery wearing his black judicial robe while the defendant was sentenced for a weapons violation, the notice says.
As the hearing concluded, Judge Scheibenberger approached the deputy prosecutor at the front of the courtroom and “created a disturbance,” then turned to the defendant’s parents in the front row and verbally berated their son.
Judge Scheibenberger is accused of violating canons that require judges to uphold the integrity of the judiciary and high standards of conduct, of not avoiding impropriety and promoting the public’s confidence in the judiciary, committing conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice, and committing willful misconduct of office.
Now in his late 50s, the judge has been on the bench since January 1992. He was admitted to practice in October 1976.
In a response to the formal charges, Fort Wayne attorney James Fenton wrote that his client “deeply regrets that he failed to prevent his emotions from affecting his conduct and recognizes that his actions were inappropriate. Judge Scheibenberger looks forward to reaching a satisfactory resolution of this matter in the near future.”
The response also says the judge doesn’t dispute the facts, but that he disagrees with certain conclusions that the commission seeks to draw from them, and that he believes other circumstances and material facts should be considered in his case.
Fenton wrote in an e-mail to Indiana Lawyer this morning that he’s not permitted to speak about the case.
Now, the Indiana Supreme Court will appoint three masters to conduct a hearing on the charges of judicial misconduct, according to commission counsel Meg Babcock. The masters will file a report with the high court, and determine whether any misconduct occurred and if any possible sanction should be issued. Penalties could range from private or public reprimands, suspension, or removal from office.