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Judge’s bid to seal exhibits denied in sex-based harassment case

December 18, 2017

A district court judge has struck down most aspects of a Huntington Circuit Court judge’s request to seal exhibits submitted as part of a sex-based harassment claim against him, finding the majority of the exhibits in question contain personal content not eligible to be kept from public view.

After Heather Malone, the Huntington County chief probation officer, filed a sex-based harassment claim against Huntington Circuit Court Judge Thomas Hakes in early December, Hakes moved the case to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana. The judge then moved in federal court to seal the exhibits Malone submitted with her complaint, which included a series of emails and Facebook messages between Hakes and Malone.

Many of the exhibits in question involve personal matters such as buying and drinking alcohol and watching ESPN. There are also numerous messages in which Hakes promises to stop reaching out to Malone, yet continues to do so.

Hakes moved to seal the exhibits, or for a protective order, on the basis that the content includes “communications relating to court business between Judge Hakes and Ms. Malone… .” While the exhibits contain mostly personal content, a few do make references to work-related meetings.

“However, Defendant does not explain what information within each exhibit is confidential or how the information is confidential within the standard set forth by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals,” Magistrate Judge Paul Cherry wrote in a Monday opinion. “… Defendant has also redacted specific portions of several exhibits on the basis that they contain ‘confidential information.’”

Cherry declined to seal any additional content in the exhibits in question, but did order that portions of the messages that Hakes redacted when he moved the case to federal court should remain under seal.

Specifically, Cherry wrote Exhibit C, an email from Hakes to Malone, can remain partially redacted. However, the magistrate also ordered that redactions of three sentences in that email must be removed. In those sentences, Hakes wrote he was uncomfortable in the courthouse, had plans to quit his job and urged Malone to move to superior court.

Similarly, the names and email addresses of individuals included in Exhibit J – an email between Hakes, Malone and other court personnel – must remain redacted as those individuals are not party to the litigation in question. All other redacted information in that email, including the date, name and location of the training sessions being discussed in the email, must be made public.

Hakes, who had announced plans earlier this year to retire, will resign his seat on the Huntington Circuit bench on Dec. 31.

The case is Heather Malone v. Judge Thomas Hakes, 1:17-cv-505.

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