Thursday, April 10, 2008

When can I stop apologizing?

We're all human. We all make mistakes. No matter how much we fret over details, busy professionals have things fall through the cracks. It's certainly happened to me. I'm knocking on wood and saying, "But for the grace of God, go I."

But there's a difference between admitting a mistake with an eye toward avoiding the same thing in the future and trying to "fudge" the facts to avoid that responsibility. And, as much as I have admired Marion Superior Court Judge Grant Hawkins, it sure comes off like he's been "in the kitchen" if you read the disciplinary charges filed against he and Nancy Broyles.

P.J. O'Rourke had a famous saying that "Republicans say government doesn't work. Then they get elected and prove it." That doesn't seem to be true in Marion County (though the judgment is sure out on the new mayor). It seems my beloved Democratic Party has cornered the market lately on bad management, and all I can ask is when, for the love of God, will I be able to quit apologizing?

I'm going to probably catch hell for this post. Probably next week when I'm eating pizza with the slated Democratic judges as a reward for my party service. I promise you I'll be covering my drink with my hand to make sure it doesn't get spit in. But isn't this what I said I'd do? Be "painfully" objective?

To the uninitiated, Judge Hawkins' (by poor oversight) and Commissioner Broyles (by poor follow-through) let a man sit in prison for about two years after DNA evidence exonerated him. This was a colossal screw up. Colossal. When attorneys make mistakes, we usually cost people dollars. But people can recover dollars. How can you compensate for lost freedom?

Yet even considering this, I was willing to say, "Sometimes stuff just happens." I can't now because this complaint fleshes out more than a loss of freedom. It calls into question Judge Hawkins' management skill and fealty to the rule of law.

Here's a gem from footnote 2 of the 11-count "Notice of Institution of Formal Proceeding" against Judge Hawkins:

"Until March 2007, Commissioner Broyles routinely issued final orders in post-conviction cases without obtaining Judge Hawkins' approval and signature, contrary to IC 33-33-49-16 and IC 33-23-5-8." Maybe if everything would have gone through Judge Hawkins, you wouldn't be reading this right now.

Here's are some more gems:

"Nearly a year after the date on the Order, Rader (Mr. Buntin's lawyer) sent an e-mail to Commissioner Broyles inquiring about the staatus of her decision in the Buntin PCR, to which Commissioner Broyles did not reply."

Had Commissioner Broyles simply took a second to go, "What the hell are you talking about? I ruled already!" you wouldn't be reading this.

"On May 20, 2005, Commissioner Broyles had at least three other post-conviction cases under advisement which were older than Buntin's case and on which she ultimately ruled after delays of 28 months, 13 months, and 13 months, respectively. And in 2007, Commissioner Broyles ruled on four other cases after six months, nine months, thirteen months, and fifteen months."

Some may say, "Yeah, but she was probably going to deny these petitions anyway, so it's not the same as keeping a man in jail without cause. Okay, but all of those cases can be appealed, and doesn't that seem like a long time to rule to you?

In his explanation for how a man was left for two years, Judge Hawkins stated that the file had been "prematurely archived," but the disciplinary commission's investigation revealed that the file never went to the Clerk's office's archives.

The complaint further notes:

"Neither Judge Hawkins nor Commissioner Broyles undertook any serious inquiry to justify their statements that the file was "archived" or "retrieved from archives."

"Judge Hawkins' deputy bailiff, Stephen Talley initially advised the Commission that, in March 2007, he contacted the Clerk's office, that the Clerk's office had the Buntin file, and that either he or Commissioner Broyles retrieved the Buntin file from the Clerk's office."

"Later, under oath, he denied any knowledge of who found the Buntin file or of its location before its appearance in early March."

"Judge Hawkins was aware of Talley's misleading statements to the Commission and took no remedial action to address his employee's misconduct."

Then, in what one might pray was the coup de grace of footnotes, the Commission states, "Judge Hawkins subsequently promoted Mr. Talley to the position of Chief Bailiff."

But NO. The (expletive here) thing GOES ON. Even though Judge Hawkins and Commissioner Broyles KNEW at the latest on March 8, 2007, that this man was still in jail, it wasn't until April 12, 2008, that Judge Hawkins issued an order for a hearing to see if the state was going to actually release him, and that hearing itself wasn't held until April 20, 2008. Wouldn't that be, like, the NEXT hearing you held if you knew the Indiana Disciplinary Commission was investigating you? I would have paid for a court reporter out of my own pocket, told her to put the steno machine on her back, and then sprinted to the prosecutor's office to pick up any warm body I could goad into following me to the jail.

Tonight I am going to pray for Grant Hawkins during this difficult time. And what I'm praying for most is that he'll get the wisdom to understand why people engage in what, at best, looks like "cover-up behavior" or, at worst, IS cover-up behavior, when they make big mistakes. Why do we do this? makes things worse....

...and then I have to apologize.



Anonymous said...

Wouldn't it be ironic if the most lenient major felony judge in Marion County has to resign for actually KEEPING someone in prison?

Judge Hawkins should resign. The opinion makes it clear they think he is lying. And simply having Broyles take all the blame isn't going to help him.

Judge Hawkins is a nice man-a very, very, nice man. But I am really believe nice people shouldnt' be judges. It leads to ineffective leadership of staff, and to the inefficient running of the judicial system.

Chris Worden said...

Anon 6:46, the reason this pains me is precisely because Judge Hawkins is a true gentleman lawyer. That's a dying breed. You might believe his rulings are too lenient, and you might find people who agree (though I'm hard-pressed to second guess someone when I didn't sit on the bench to hear what they heard). But I haven't ever heard, let alone actually seen, Judge Hawkins treat anybody disrespectfully with an intent to do so. It just doesn't happen. Also, I think as a whole, you'll see that those attorneys who appear before Judge Hawkins hold him in high regard, and it's a shame one mistake will undo all of that. So, while I agree that the charges against him strongly suggest he is lying, we have to respect the process and let the Commission do its work. I'm not ready to call for a resignation. We need a ruling first. I just hope that all people in public service take this as a cautionary tale. When you're "caught" making a mistake, think long and hard about how you respond because anything less than candor will make things worse for you.

Anonymous said...

This is truly a sad set of events. I was appalled last year when I heard Buntin was held for two years after he was exonerated by DNA evidence because the files were archived. To hear it's sheer incompetence, in a sense, just enrages me.

Judge Hawkins is certainly guilty of being a poor manager and not following the code. One must wonder if the trust he placed in his commissioner is the true basis for his false statements to the commission. He appears to have been totally hands off on these type of cases.

After this all settles down and he receives his reprimand, he needs to fire his commissioner. If you can't rely on your commissioner, why have them? It's not sensical.

Anonymous said...

It may not be the commissioner but the court staff who have the responsiblity of moving the paperwork through the channels to carry out the orders of the court

Chris Worden said...

Even if the court staff were responsible, all lawyers (and judges) know that all errors and omissions of staff are yours because it means you failed to supervised properly. But even if it were true that staff was at fault, you certainly don't promote 'em!

Anonymous said...

I was the original commenter.

The reason I think a resignation would be in order now to save face is because (and I am sure you would agree) the Commission is well known for being extremely thorough before acting. If this were a criminal indictment, I would be all for waiting. But when the Commission files these counts, especially against a sitting judge, they do so knowing they can prove their case.

I can't imagine Judge Hawkins wanting all of this dirty laundry aired out any more than the rest of us, and I would hope he would resign to close the matter.

As a Democrat who has supported Judge Hawkins in the past, it pains me as well. But it would pain me more to see him drag this out further.

I had been hearing disturbing rumors about Broyles for quite some time-that she was having memory issues that was causing severe lapses in judgment, mainly. Some called it senility. I hope this is not the case. But I hope that if this is the case, that Hawkins didn't want to be the one to have the tough talk with her and let matters suffer. It is my understanding she has already resigned, but her last day has yet to occur.

Anonymous said...

You might want to note that the prosecution objected to the release because they believed the DNA was irrelevent to Benton's conviction.

That being said, it is really ugly. Every lawyer and judge who has read the complaint knows that this is a potential career ender --not just a judicial career either.