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Judge charged with misconduct

September 22, 2018

A state panel on Friday charged New Haven City Court Judge Geoff Robison with judicial misconduct, alleging he disobeyed orders in 2015 to stop processing tickets filed with the court without review by the Allen County prosecutor’s office.

He also allowed juveniles to resolve cases through a deferral program, which was not allowed, according to the Indiana Commission on Judicial Qualifications. The seven-member panel investigates charges of ethical misconduct by judges.

“Generally, the charges allege Judge Robison, who is not a lawyer, permitted the filing and processing of state infraction cases in New Haven City Court when the Allen County prosecutor’s office did not authorize the filing,” a statement announcing the charges states.

Robison, a former New Haven police chief who took the bench in 2000, was ordered by Allen County Prosecutor Karen Richards in April 2015 to stop processing the cases. Richards “learned at a prosecuting attorney seminar or through an advisory opinion that it was unethical to have court staff perform the duties of the prosecutor” and arranged to have cases filed instead at Allen Superior Court, court documents state.

State law requires that actions to enforce infraction statutes must be brought by the prosecuting attorney, according to charging documents filed with the Indiana Supreme Court.

But Robison allowed the practice to continue for more than two years : from April 14, 2015, through May 22, 2017 : violating state law that outlines the powers and duties of city or town court judges, the state alleges. The city court used a stamp with Richards’ signature to sign off on deferral agreements after April 2015, documents say.

“Nowhere within this statute is a city court judge given the power to initiate the filing of infractions or to dispose of infractions by deferral without action from the prosecutor,” the 11-page filing states.

Reached Friday at his office, Robison said he was aware of an investigation “for months” but did not know charges had been filed. He said he does not plan to step down.

“I need to talk with my attorney,” Robison said and declined to comment further.

The city court handled more than 1,800 infraction cases from 2015 to this year, and “none of the infraction cases filed were venued or transferred out to the Allen Superior Court or any other court,” documents say.

Richards discovered last year the city court continued to accept infraction tickets and sent a letter in May 2017 to Robison ordering him to again stop processing the cases.

It is not clear how infraction cases handled and closed by Robison since April 2015 will be handled, but court documents say Richards expressed a need for the judge to “immediately audit all New Haven City Court pending cases and dismiss any pending state infraction cases and to send that information to her attention directly.”

The court also accepted payments on some cases that had not been resolved, the state alleges.

Robyn Niedzwiecki, a spokeswoman for the prosecutor’s office, declined to comment, citing the pending case against Robison.

New Haven Mayor Terry McDonald was out of state Friday and could not be reached for comment. Stephen Harants, a lawyer who represents the city council, did not return a message late Friday afternoon.

State Supreme Court justices will decide whether misconduct occurred. Action from the high court can range from dismissing the charges, considering a disciplinary agreement between the state panel and Robison, appointing a panel of judges to hold a public hearing on the case or fining the city court judge.  

Justices also could impose punishments ranging from a reprimand or suspension to a permanent ban on holding judicial office in Indiana, the news release says.

Robison has 20 days to respond to the charges. 

He is the only judge the city court has ever had, and state law does not require city or town court judges to be licensed attorneys.

McDonald told The Journal Gazette in 2015 the decision by Richards to no longer allow police in Allen County to file traffic tickets in the city court was frustrating.

He said at the time the smaller city court helped relieve an Allen County court backlog and it made things easier for officers looking to file tickets.

Richards said in 2015 her office was unable to assign a staffer to the court.  

mleblanc@jg.net

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