Knox County judge reprimanded for tossing friend’s case

A Knox Superior Court judge had been publicly reprimand for reinstating a close friend’s suspended driver’s license and suggesting a deputy prosecutor dismiss the case, according to an Indiana Supreme Court order issued Friday.

Judicial discipline charges were filed against Knox Superior 2 Judge Ryan D. Johanningsmeier by the high court in June after he was charged with three counts of misconduct related to a case where he did not recuse himself even though he was partial to the defendant.

In 2015, B.K., a close friend of Johanningsmeier, was charged with speeding in Bicknell City Court, resulting in the suspension of his driver’s license. Later that month, Johanningsmeier issued an order granting his friend’s petition and reinstated the license without disclosing their relationship or notifying the prosecutor. This came just two weeks after the friends vacationed together out-of-state, according to the Commission on Judicial Qualifications.

The commission concluded Johanningsmeier’s conduct violated six provisions of the Code of Judicial Conduct:

• Rule 1.1, requiring judges to comply with the law;

• Rule 1.2, requiring judges to avoid impropriety and act at all times in a manner promoting public confidence in the judiciary’s integrity;

• Rule 1.3, prohibiting judges (as relevant here) from abusing the prestige of judicial office to advance others’ personal or economic interests;

• Rule 2.2, requiring judges to uphold and apply the law and to perform all judicial duties fairly and impartially;

• Rule 2.4(B), prohibiting judges from allowing (as relevant here) social relationships to influence the judge’s judicial conduct or judgment, and;

 • Rule 2.11(A), requiring judges to disqualify themselves in any proceeding in which their impartiality might reasonably be questioned.

“As mitigators, the parties agree that Judge Johanningsmeier cooperated with the Commission’s investigation and is remorseful,” the court order read. “And they agree that the appropriate sanction under the circumstances is a public reprimand plus assessing costs of this proceeding against Judge Johanningsmeier.”

The high court cited In re Van Rider, 715 N.E.2d 402, 404 (Ind. 1999) in its decision to publicly reprimand the judge.

“In In re Van Rider, a judge failed to recuse from his son’s criminal case and instead ordered him immediately released from jail on his own recognizance,” the order said. “Similarly here, Judge Johanningsmeier failed to recuse and instead acted to secure favorable treatment for his friend. Such actions are obvious violations of a judge’s most basic ethical duty — impartiality.”

The high court concluded that if a public reprimand was appropriate for In re Van Rider, it would also be appropriate for Johanningsmeier.

The case is In the Matter of the Honorable Ryan D. Johanningsmeier, Judge of the Knox Superior Court 2, 18S-JD-351.

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