Little more than a month after formal discipline charges were filed against Gibson Circuit Court Judge Jeffrey Meade, the Indiana Supreme Court has imposed a one-week suspension on the judge that will allow him to resume his judicial duties in early February.
Meade will begin serving his unpaid suspension at 12:01 a.m. on Jan. 30 and will be automatically reinstated to the office at 12:01 a.m. on Feb. 6, according to the Thursday disciplinary opinion in In the Matter of the Honorable Jeffrey F. Meade, Judge of the Gibson Circuit Court, 22S-JD-390.
The Indiana Commission on Judicial Qualifications filed the four-count complaint against Meade, who has been a judge since 2007, on Dec. 1. The complaint alleged multiple violations of the Indiana Code of Judicial Conduct in Meade’s handling of paternity and child in need of services cases.
Specifically at issue in Count 1 of the complaint was the paternity case, during which Meade made “intemperate comments from the bench,” according to the high court.
Those comments were aimed at a father, whom Meade told to “zip it” and “shut up,” accused of passing his child off “like a football” and called “bro,” and toward whom Meade used explicit language from the bench. He also “repeatedly made comments about his own divorce and custody proceedings and compared his situation with that of the litigants before him,” according to the Supreme Court.
The parties, including Meade, agreed that his conduct in the paternity case violated Rules 1.2 and 2.8(B) of the Indiana Code of Judicial Conduct. Rule 1.2 requires judges “to avoid impropriety and act at all times in a manner promoting public confidence in the judiciary’s integrity,” while Rule
2.8(B) requires judges “to be patient, dignified, and courteous to litigants.”
The other three counts filed against Meade related to a CHINS case.
The case involved three siblings, whose foster parents were allowed to intervene with the intent of adopting the children. The children’s paternal grandmother also moved to intervene and filed for third-party custody.
A hearing on the grandmother’s motion was held on May 14, 2020, in Meade’s chambers, with counsel for the parents and the Indiana Department of Child Services present, as well as a CASA representative. The foster parents’ counsel participated via speakerphone. No audio recording or transcript was made.
Meade ultimately granted the grandmother’s motion to intervene, but he “failed to summon her or otherwise allow her to participate” in the rest of the hearing, even though she was waiting in the hallway.
Also at the off-the-record hearing, Meade considered and ruled on three oral motions, denying a request by the foster parents’ counsel to appear in person and present evidence on those motions before he ruled.
Then, after counsel for the foster parents had hung up, Meade asked counsel for the mother to help the court reporter prepare a minute entry. Counsel for the foster parents later told counsel for the Department of Child Services that she had a different recollection of Meade’s oral rulings, but those proposed changes were not incorporated into the final order.
Then in March 2022, nearly two years later, Meade changed the chronological case summary entry for the May 2020 hearing to reflect an “Administrative Event,” rather than a “Hearing Journal Event.”
In addition to the violations of Rules 1.2 and 2.8(B), the parties agreed that Meade violated Rules 1.1, 2.2, 2.5, 2.6 and 2.9(A) of the Code of Judicial Conduct. The judge also agreed that his conduct was prejudicial to the administration of justice.
A conditional agreement between Meade and the JQC pointed to Meade’s acceptance of responsibility, remorse, cooperation, coaching and counseling as mitigators. Also, Gibson County has appointed a new magistrate judge to handle family law matters, and Meade has updated his courtroom technology to better accommodate on-the-record remote hearings.
As for aggravators, the parties cited Meade’s previous discipline: caution letters in 2008 and 2010 and his completion in 2017 of a deferred resolution for “demeanor issues” and “non-judicious behavior.”
“… (T)his sole aggravator reveals a troubling pattern of misconduct,” the justices wrote in the per curiam opinion. “This is the fourth time Respondent has been disciplined for intemperate or injudicious behavior during his sixteen years as a judge.
“He received his first private caution during his second year in office, and the facts giving rise to this complaint began just two years after his most recent discipline concluded,” the justices continued. “While acknowledging the steps Respondent has taken to remedy his demeanor issues — specifically, completing an eight-session coaching intensive called Mindful Boundaries for Judicial Officers and engaging in counseling services — we note that the Mindful Boundaries report recommends that Respondent pursue ‘ongoing coaching at a maintenance level,’ while the parties’ proposed discipline imposes no similar requirement.
“Respondent’s pejorative remarks to litigants, improper ex parte communications and due process violations ‘diminish public confidence in the judiciary’ and ‘erode the public’s perception of the courts as dispensers of impartial justice.’ … However, we cannot overlook the fact that we are considering this matter following the parties’ submission of a conditional agreement. … Such agreements are often the product of lengthy negotiations and may merit a less severe sanction than might otherwise be imposed after a trial on the merits.”
Thus, the high court agreed to impose the recommended seven-day suspension without pay, with automatic reinstatement. All justices concurred.