Thursday, August 28, 2014

Judge's Actions Holding Kokomo Mayor in Contempt Raises Issues Regarding His Abuse of Contempt Power, Lack of Temperament

Over at Masson's Blog, attorney Doug Masson beat me to the punch on writing an article questioning whether Howard County Superior Court Judge William Menges overstepped his legal authority in holding Kokomo Mayor Greg Goodnight in contempt over the issue of construction materials supposedly blocking courthouse access:    WISH-TV recaps what happened:
William Menges, Judge
Howard County Superior Court #1
Outside the Howard County Courthouse there is construction underway on the Industrial Heritage Trail.  The construction has at times forced changes in the normal delivery of jail inmates to the courthouse.

Then, on Tuesday afternoon construction materials were placed in the driveway blocking
access.  To Judge Menges that was an act of contempt by Mayor Goodnight.

He sent the Sheriff to Goodnight’s office with a message.  “If you don’t come with me over to the judge’s chamber,” Goodnight quoted the Sheriff as saying, “we’re going to take you to jail.”

Through a spokesperson the judge said he can’t comment on the record.  His contempt order says the mayor blocked access to the courthouse and says it was “intentional and done solely for the purpose of disrupting the regular proceedings of the court.”

The judge ordered that Goodnight be sent to jail but before he arrived there in a sheriff’s department van, the construction materials were moved.

Masson raises a key legal issue:  "Wouldn’t that be, at best, indirect contempt, requiring the court to provide due process, including appointment of a special judge, before threatening to incarcerate the mayor? (See IC 34-47-3)."

Yep, it would certainly appear to be.  I would add that Judge Menges had also become personally involved in the dispute.  He had no business whatsoever presiding over the contempt proceedings. A special judge should have been appointed.  Judges should not rule in indirect contempt cases where they could themselves be a witness to the contempt.   And they most certainly should never preside over cases when they are angry.  When a judge finds himself or herself getting angry, the judge should voluntarily step down from the case.

Masson raises some other excellent questions that he suggests would be a "good exercise for a law school exam!"  Indeed.

But here is part of the WISH-TV story that I find the most troubling:
Judge Menges also threatened a Kokomo newspaper reporter with contempt Tuesday.  The reporter declined comment.

Two years ago the judge found a woman in contempt of court for having a noisy baby in the courtroom, and in 2011, he made headlines by issuing a court order instructing the county auditor to pay for the new copy machine he wanted.
The facts regarding the reporter need to be made public.  That and the other incidents raise the distinct possibility that the Goodnight contempt matter might not just be a one time situation in which Judge Menges displayed extremely poor judgment and abused his contempt authority.  Rather, it appears to be a pattern of abusing power that suggests Judge Menges may well not have the temperament to be a judge.

While Mayor Goodnight talks possible legal action, I would imagine he will also end up filing a  complaint with the Indiana Judicial Qualifications Commission, the body that disciplines the state's judges. Given Judge Menges pattern of conduct, it may well be a complaint that is found to have merit.

1 comment:

  1. Hah! And here I thought we were gonna head down to Ned's and pass the hat for some emergency bail money for Greg