Former Adams Co. judge banned from judicial service for life following campaign-related misconduct

A former Adams County Drug Court judge has been banned from judicial service in Indiana for life after violating judicial conduct rules related to his failed 2020 reelection campaign.

Patrick R. Miller, formerly judge of the Adams Superior Court, also received a public reprimand on Friday — his second — in addition to the lifetime ban on judicial service.

According to an order approving statement of circumstances and conditional agreement for discipline, Miller’s discipline involved his drug court coordinator, whom he hired in 2015. While the order identifies the coordinator as “Employee,” she is identified in separate disciplinary documents as Kelly Sickafoose.

Sickafoose had an office in the Adams County courthouse and attended drug court sessions, sitting at a desk next to the bench. When Miller launched his reelection campaign in 2020, Sickafoose assisted him with his campaign in the courthouse and during office hours, including asking other court employees about campaign materials.

According to the order, “Respondent never adequately explained to Employee that there were rules about working on judicial campaigns while also working for the court or that there were rules against campaign work being done inside court facilities.”

One Thursday during the campaign cycle, Miller and Sickafoose stopped at a store about noon to order campaign T-shirts, then picked up the shirts on another Thursday around 1 p.m. The order notes, “The store owner was present and knew Employee worked for Respondent in his role as judge.”

Then on a Friday, the two went to the local newspaper office around 9:30 a.m. so that Sickafoose could review Miller’s campaign ad and discuss it with the sales manager. The fact that it was a Friday meant that Sickafoose “would have been wearing apparel with the Drug Court’s logo.”

“Respondent and Employee never discussed the appearance to the public of a court employee accompanying Respondent to the newspaper office to review a campaign ad in the middle of the morning on a workday,” the order says.

Miller’s discipline also stems from conduct independent of his work with Sickafoose. The Indiana Supreme Court pointed to his dealings with a drug court defendant who, while Miller was on the bench, asked the judge about obtaining a campaign yard sign.

“While still seated on the bench and wearing his robe, Respondent discussed with Defendant the size of the sign Defendant wanted and confirmed Defendant would get a yard sign,” The high court wrote in the Friday order. “Other members of the Drug Court, including Employee and the prosecutor, heard this conversation.

“A small yard sign was delivered to the Defendant’s yard and displayed. In September or October of 2020, Respondent delivered a large campaign sign to Defendant’s yard and remove the small sign.”

Miller, a Republican, lost the 2020 general election to now-Judge Sam Conrad, an independent. He left the bench at the end of December 2020.

The Indiana Commission on Judicial Qualifications filed disciplinary charges against Miller in November 2021.  The parties agreed that he violated seven provisions of the Indiana Judicial Code, including:

  • Rule 1.1, requiring a judge to comply with the law.
  • 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 3.1(C), prohibiting judges from participating in activities that would appear to a reasonable person to undermine the judge’s independence, integrity or impartiality.
  • Rule 4.1(A)(10), prohibiting judges and judicial candidates from using court staff, facilities or other court resources in a campaign for judicial office.
  • Rule 4.1(B), requiring judges or judicial candidates to take reasonable measures to ensure that other persons do not undertake, on behalf of the judge or judicial candidate, activities that are prohibited under Rule 4.1(A).
  • Rule 4.2(A)(1), requiring a judicial candidate in a partisan, nonpartisan or retention election to act at all times in a manner consistent with the independence, integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.
  • Rule 4.2(A)(2), requiring a judicial candidate in a partisan, nonpartisan or retention election to comply with all applicable election, election campaign and election campaign fundraising laws and regulations.

Miller’s prior public reprimand was cited as an aggravating factor in the instant case.

In his first discipline case, 20S-JD-108, Miller in 2020 was found to have violated four judicial ethics rules related to a dispute with other county officials on Sickafoose’s behalf.

Sickafoose was initially hired as a contractor, so the county auditor, Mary Beery, declined to pay Sickafoose county benefits. Sickafoose filed a tort claim against Beery, and her attorney was working to reach a settlement on that claim.

Meanwhile, Miller issued an order requiring Beery to provide proof of payment to Sickafoose within 48 hours under threat of contempt. When the case went to a special judge, Miller sent a letter, on Adams County letterhead, asking that Beery be held in contempt.

While the case was proceeding, Sickafoose’s attorney continued to negotiate with an attorney for the county, giving the impression that Miller had strategized with Sickafoose’s legal team.

A second special judge eventually entered judgment for Beery, and the Court of Appeals of Indiana affirmed. In Friday’s case, Miller’s remorse and acceptance of responsibility were cited as mitigators.

“A sanction for judicial misconduct ‘must be designed to discourage others from engaging in similar misconduct and to assure the public that judicial misconduct will not be condoned,’” the high court wrote, citing In re Hawkins, 902 N.E.2d 231, 244 (Ind. 2009). “The parties’ agreed sanction will prohibit Respondent from serving as a judicial officer.”

Costs of $1,496.72 are also assessed against Miller.

The case is In the Matter of the Honorable Patrick R. Miller, former Judge of the Adams Superior Court, 21S-JD-513.

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