Porter Co. judge receives public admonition for bond modifications

Porter Superior Judge Christopher Buckley received a public admonition Monday for actions related to his service as a town court judge, when he modified several defendants’ bonds without giving them notice or without a motion from the prosecution.

The Indiana Commission on Judicial Qualifications issued the public admonition after Buckley admitted that certain actions taken as the Lowell Town Court judge between January 2016 and January 2020 violated Code of Judicial Conduct Rules 1.1 and 1.2, which require judges to comply with the law and act in a manner that promotes public confidence in the independence, integrity and impartiality of the judiciary and to avoid impropriety.

Buckley also admitted to violating Rules 2.2 and 2.6(A), which require judges to perform all duties of judicial office fairly and impartially and for judges to accord every person who has a legal interest in a proceeding the right to be heard according to the law.

The admonition states that after reviewing the probable cause affidavits for two defendants, Buckley entered orders finding probable cause, ordered the defendants held without bond and issued arrest warrants for both individuals. Neither was arrested before the next court session on Jan. 22, 2020, and on Jan. 30, Buckley submitted his letter of resignation from the court.

It wasn’t until Feb. 6 that the town court staff noticed the defendants remained in custody. By Feb. 12, both were brought before the Lake Superior Court and released with orders to appear.

The Indiana Supreme Court on Feb. 21 received a filed report indicating that the Lake County Jail had submitted a request to Lake County Judges to consider the release of two in-custody defendants who were being held without bond. It relayed that the “request was based on a standing order issued by Judge Buckley, indicating anyone with a pending misdemeanor in the Lowell Town Court who is subsequently arrested and charged with another misdemeanor be held without bond.” However, Buckley denied the assertions.

During the time Buckley served as town court judge, at least eight individuals in 13 separate matters were charged with one offense, given bail and issued a “no bond” determination by Buckley when arrested on subsequent offenses.

“In some instances, a defendant initially would receive a monetary bond according to the Lowell Town Court Bond Schedule, and Judge Buckley would subsequently amend the defendant’s bond to ‘no bond’ along with his order finding probable cause. Judge Buckley indicated that these defendants had their bonds revoked when they obtained new charges. A review of the individual cases reveals that the files do not include any written motions to revoke or notations that an oral motion was made,” the admonition states.

“Although efficacious administration of one’s docket is not without some importance, the Constitution recognizes higher values than speed and efficiency. Therefore, it is incumbent upon judicial officers to ensure that their pretrial release procedures comport with the Indiana Constitution, state statutes, Criminal Rule 26, and other evidence-based decision-making requirements,” the admonition continued.

The commission determined that formal disciplinary charges are warranted against Buckley, but in lieu of formal disciplinary proceedings a public admonition would be issued due to his cooperation, his acceptance of responsibility for his conduct, his lack of any prior disciplinary history and given that most of the cases at issue were subsequently dismissed.

“The Commission’s decision is also due to the proactive steps Judge Buckley has taken at establishing pretrial release safeguards and procedures in Porter Superior Court 4 to ensure his future rulings demonstrate his commitment to a fair and impartial judiciary,” the admonition states.

The admonition concludes the commission’s investigation, and Buckley will not formally be charged with ethical misconduct.

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