Judges warned on their roles
Retired New Haven City Court Judge Geoff Robison wasn’t the only municipal court jurist to act outside the legal boundaries of his position, the Indiana Supreme Court said this week.
Robison, who resigned Dec. 26 as the New Haven City Council voted to close the court, was charged with judicial misconduct by the state Commission on Judicial Qualifications. He denied the allegation, but the panel said he wrongly allowed juveniles to resolve cases through a deferral program and acted as a prosecutor when he processed tickets filed with the court and used a prosecutor’s stamp to sign off on agreements on infractions.
The high court dismissed the case last month because Robison resigned and the court no longer exists. Robison, who is not a lawyer and had served as city court judge since 2000, is barred from future judicial service under an agreement he signed.
Justices issued an opinion Monday warning against city and town court judges acting as prosecutors, the officers authorized to enforce state infraction statutes. The opinion cites at least two other town court judges who overstepped their authority.
Fremont Town Court Judge Martha C. Hagerty : also not an attorney : was admonished by the commission in 2012 for acting as a prosecutor when she tried to negotiate a resolution to a defendant’s case, court records show. She was scolded for a similar violation three years later.
Walkerton Town Court Judge Roger L. Huizenga was admonished in 2009, also for trying to negotiate a resolution to a defendant’s case. He also employed his wife as town court clerk, violating court rules.
“While municipal courts are created by statute and empowered to decide only certain cases, their status as ‘special courts’ does not absolve them of the duties of a separate but co-equal branch of government,” the Supreme Court opinion states. “Municipal court judges, like all judges, must endeavor to maintain, preserve and protect the independence of Indiana’s judiciary, even when administering the lowest-level civil and criminal offenses.”
At issue in the Robison misconduct case was that he allowed “the filing and processing of state infraction cases ... when the Allen County prosecutor’s office did not authorize the filing,” the Judicial Qualifications panel announced in September. Robison, a former New Haven police chief, countered with a filing in October saying Allen County Prosecutor Karen Richards overstepped her authority.
State law had allowed people who were not attorneys to be city or town court judges. The law was changed in 2015.