Huntington judge faces sex-based harassment suit

A longtime judge in Huntington County at the center of a separate recent controversy has been sued by a county employee who alleges she was the victim of the judge’s “campaign of sex-based harassment, discrimination, and retaliation” that “created a hostile and oppressive workplace environment.”

Huntington Circuit Judge Thomas Hakes is the defendant in a complaint filed Tuesday by chief probation officer Heather Malone, who serves in a subordinate position to the judge. Her suit alleges Hakes sent her suggestive emails and social media messages even after she asked him to stop. In retaliation for her disinterest, the suit claims, Hakes denied Malone a pay raise and told courthouse employees to avoid her, among other things.

“Over time, and including 2016 and 2017, Judge Hakes began to behave in an obsessive and unwelcome manner toward Ms. Malone, on the basis of her sex,” the complaint says. “… In essence, Judge Hakes constantly pressured Ms. Malone for a relationship that she did not wish to have.”

Hakes was not in the courthouse in Huntington on Thursday, and he did not immediately respond to a forwarded message seeking comment. Hakes, who previously announced he would retire at the end of this year, has served on the trial court bench since his appointment in 2006.

Malone alleges Hakes sent “innumerable” Facebook messages to her, virtually all of which she claims involved personal matters after hours. Hakes admits in some of his messages to her that he needed to stop, then resumed messaging, sometimes admonishing Malone for not replying. In one instance, according to the complaint, Hakes tells Malone, “I am sometimes curious of your definition of friend?”

The suit also alleges Hakes drove by Malone’s house and reported back to her about his observations. He also became angered that Malone was dating another man, according to exhibits filed with the suit.

Malone’s complaint further alleges she wasn’t the only person mistreated by Hakes. “(A)nother male judicial officer in the Huntington County court system has complained that Judge Hakes was sexually harassing and/or engaging in sex discrimination against a female judicial officer in Huntington County,” Malone’s suit says. When Hakes learned of the complaint, Malone’s suit alleges he told her he would fire her if she ever accused him of sexual harassment.

One of Hakes’ emails included in the exhibits is from Oct. 29, 2016. It appears to reference earlier complaints against Hakes, who attacks fellow Huntington judicial officers, retired Judge Jeffrey Heffelfinger and Superior Judge Jennifer Newton.

“Am I comfortable in the courthouse … not by a long shot,” Hakes wrote in an email to Malone. “When you closed the chamber door yesterday, it was the first time I allowed that in 2 months. … The letter from the disciplinary committee was the last straw … he won … and by extension so has Jenny Newton.”

Malone’s suit was filed in Newton’s court, and she recused herself today. Parties will strike from a panel of special judges to determine who will hear the case. Malone’s attorney, Matt Elliott of Beckman Lawson LLP in Fort Wayne, declined to comment on the case.

Hakes has been the subject of another controversy this year, after he sentenced a doctor who pleaded guilty to two counts of sexual battery against a former employee to probation. The sentence prompted protests at the courthouse among some who believe the punishment was too lenient.   

The suit against Malone was first reported by WPTA-TV of Fort Wayne, which sued in an effort to broadcast court proceedings in that case involving Dr. John C. Mathew. The Indiana Court of Appeals in October upheld a ruling that the station could not air the audio record, as it would violate trial rules.

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