The judge of the Adams County Drug Court has received a public reprimand from the Indiana Supreme Court after being found in violation of four judicial ethics rules related to his dispute with other county officials on behalf of his drug court coordinator.
The discipline traces back to 2015, when drug court coordinator Kelly Sickafoose – identified only as “Coordinator” in the Supreme Court’s disciplinary order but identified by name in other public court documents – was hired as a contractor who reported directly to Miller.
The dispute arose the following year when Adams County Auditor Mary Beery, at the request of the county council and board of commissioners, declined to pay Sickafoose county benefits only available to full-time employees, not contractors. As the county continued to withhold public benefits through March 2017, Sickafoose’s attorney, J. Michael Loomis, was negotiating with the county attorney to reach a settlement on a tort claim Sickafoose had filed against Beery.
The following June, Miller issued an order requiring Beery to provide proof of payment to Sickafoose within 48 hours on threat of contempt. The case was then stayed on an emergency writ of mandamus and prohibition sought by Beery, but when the stay was lifted a few days later, a special county attorney told Miller the disputed claims had been paid.
The county attorney also requested a special judge, and now-retired Judge Thomas Hakes of Huntington County took over the case. Miller sent a letter to Hakes – on Adams County letterhead, the Supreme Court noted – asking that Beery be held in contempt.
Meanwhile, Loomis continued communicating with the special Adams County attorney, “giving the impression that he had strategized with Judge Miller on Coordinator’s claims. Judge Miller was aware of these emails but took no steps to correct the impression that Loomis was speaking on his behalf.”
Then in October 2017, Miller told the county attorney that he had drafted a contempt complaint against the auditor, but he suggested he would not file it if he was offered a settlement. County officials rejected Miller’s offer, and another special judge – Kenton Kiracofe of Wells County – entered judgment in favor of Beery.
In the judgment, Sickafoose was ordered to pay Beery $16,463.50 in attorney fees. Sicakfoose appealed, but a divided Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed.
In the Thursday order approving the statement of circumstances and conditional agreement of discipline, the Supreme Court agreed with the parties that Miller violated four provisions of the Indiana Code of Judicial Conduct, including:
- Rule 1.1, requiring a judge to comply with the law, including the Code of Judicial Conduct;
- Rule 1.2, requiring a judge to “act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the independence, integrity, and impartiality of the judiciary,” and to “avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety”;
- Rule 1.3, providing that judges “shall not abuse the prestige of judicial office to advance the personal or economic interests of the judge or others, or allow others to do so”; and
- Rule 3.10, prohibiting a judge from practicing law.
Miller’s act of committing misconduct in his official capacity was cited as an aggravating factor against him, but his cooperation and remorse were counted as mitigators. The Supreme Court also pointed to the public benefit of the Adams County Drug Court.
“Here, though Judge Miller disqualified himself from the dispute between Coordinator and the Auditor, he continued to negotiate on Coordinator’s behalf – both in his capacity as judge and behind the scenes with Coordinator’s attorney,” the Supreme Court wrote. “These discussions concluded with an ultimatum in which Judge Miller threatened the Auditor with contempt unless Coordinator was offered a substantial settlement from public funds. Such blatant abuses of judicial power ‘diminish public confidence in the judiciary’ and ‘erode the public’s perception of the courts as dispensers of impartial justice.’ In Re Van Rider, 715 N.E.2d 402, 404 (Ind. 1999).”
Miller was also given credit for his negotiations with the JQC.
The public reprimand ends the disciplinary proceeding against the judge. All justices concurred in In the Matter of the Honorable Patrick R. Miller, Judge of the Adams Superior Court, 20S-JD-108.
According to the Indiana Roll of Attorneys, Miller was admitted to the practice of law in Indiana in 1991 and has no prior disciplinary history.
Indiana Lawyer has reached out to Miller’s counsel for comment on the reprimand.