Public defender accused of harassing ex-girlfriend suspended

May 17, 2017

A northern Indiana public defender accused of repeatedly harassing his ex-girlfriend has been suspended from the practice of law in Indiana for at least one year.

Joseph M. Johnson, III, the chief public defender in Adams County, was married when he began an affair with “Jane Doe” in 2010. The affair ended after several months, but the two met again for a dinner in March 2014.

During that dinner, Johnson told Doe his wife was leaving him, and thereafter he began repeatedly calling Doe. Despite Doe telling him she was not interested in a relationship with him, Johnson persisted in calling her. During one of these calls, Johnson began crying and Doe heard him shoot a gun multiple times.

Johnson then continued calling, texting and Facebook messaging Doe and also appeared at her apartment. Police issued a No Trespass Order against Johnson, but he continued calling Doe and trying to contact her through her roommate. The police got involved again, telling Johnson to cease all efforts for communication with Doe, but he responded by threatening to have her children taken away and to create trouble for her through her probation officer.

After Johnson returned to Doe’s apartment while her children were present, Doe obtained a protective order against Johnson, so he retaliated by telling Doe’s probation officer that she had violated her probation. Doe admitted to having a glass of wine at her dinner with Johnson, a violation of her probation for operating while intoxicated, which resulted in her receiving a 10-day sentence.

The Indiana State Police became involved in the case, and Johnson was found guilty of one count of trespass and was placed on informal probation. He was ordered not to contact Doe, but upon seeing A.F., one of Doe’s friends, at the courthouse, Johnson lured her into his office and asked about Doe’s living and romantic situation.

Johnson eventually tracked Doe to her new residence and drove to the residence on multiple occasions in May 2015. The hearing officer in Johnson’s case before the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission noted he was suffering from a progression of mental illness, including depression, manic episodes and bipolar disorder, during some, but not all, of his encounters with Doe.

Johnson argued in his discipline case that he suffered from mental illness, so if the Indiana Supreme Court sanctioned his law license, it would violate the Americans with Disabilities Act. 

“We…agree with the hearing officer that, while some of Respondent’s actions can be traced to manic episodes he was experiencing, other actions committed by Responded as part of his long-running pattern of misconduct involving J.D. occurred during periods when Respondent was receiving treatment and the symptoms of his mental illness had somewhat abated,” the Indiana Supreme Court wrote in a Wednesday per curiam opinion for In the Matter of: Joseph M. Johnson, III, 01S00-1604-DI-188.

The public defender was accused of violating Indiana Rules of Professional Conduct 8.4(b), committing a criminal act that reflects adversely on the lawyers’ honestly, trustworthiness, or fitness as a lawyer; 8.4(d), engaging in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice; and 8.4(e), stating or implying an ability to improperly influence a government official or agency. The Indiana Supreme Court agreed with those charges and ordered Wednesday that Johnson be suspended for at least a year, without automatic reinstatement, beginning June 28.

Johnson can petition for reinstatement at the conclusion of his one-year suspension pursuant to Admission and Discipline Rule 23(18). The costs of the proceeding are assessed against him.


Recent Articles by Olivia Covington