The Indiana Commission on Judicial Qualifications took the rare step of filing formal disciplinary proceedings Tuesday against Allen Superior Court Judge Kenneth R. Scheibenberger.
Alleging the judge violated rules of judicial conduct in a verbal exchange with the family of a criminal defendant last November in another courtroom, the statement of charges outlines four counts of judicial misbehavior.
On Nov. 30, Scheibenberger, while still wearing his robe, went into the courtroom of Allen Superior Court Judge Fran Gull and sat down in the gallery to witness the sentencing of a man accused of a weapons violation. The man had not appeared before Scheibenberger, according to court documents.
As the hearing concluded, Scheibenberger approached an Allen County deputy prosecutor and “created a disturbance,” telling the deputy prosecutor the defendant was a “drug dealer and declared ‘upstanding citizen, my ass' in reference to a comment he heard during the sentencing,” according to court documents.
Then he turned to the man's parents, seated in the front row, asking them whether they were “related to that piece of shit? ‘Upstanding citizen, my ass! He'll get his!' or words to that effect,” according to court documents.
Scheibenberger declined to comment on the matter Tuesday, although he did say that the man to whom he was referring had sold drugs to Scheibenberger's son, Sam, who died in August.
The judge has 20 days to file a formal response to the charges, though he is not required to do so, said Meg Babcock, counsel for the commission.
The first count of the document alleges Scheibenberger failed to uphold the integrity of the judiciary and to maintain high standards of conduct. The second count alleges he failed to avoid impropriety at all times or act in a manner promoting the public's confidence in the integrity of the judiciary. The third count alleges he committed conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice, and the fourth count alleges Scheibenberger committed willful misconduct while in office, according to court documents.
The seven-member commission screens and investigates allegations of judicial misconduct, sorting through hundreds of complaints each year with few resulting in any kind of formal reprimand or public admonishment, according to information from the commission.
It is not the first time Scheibenberger, appointed to the bench in 1991 then elected in 1992, has found himself in hot water. In December 2002, the judge drew a public admonition from the Indiana Commission on Judicial Qualifications for conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice. When his son was arrested for a misdemeanor in 2001, Scheibenberger obtained his son's criminal file from a clerk's office employee and made an entry delaying the case to give his son more time to prepare for an upcoming hearing, an action the commission found violated judicial canons prohibiting judges from using the power of their offices to advance private interests.
Then, in July 2003, Scheibenberger underwent treatment for alcohol addiction at an out-of-state treatment facility.
The Indiana Supreme Court will appoint three judges, known as masters, to conduct a hearing on the charge of judicial misconduct. The masters will then file a report with the Indiana Supreme Court and will determine whether any sanctions are warranted, officials said.
The sanctions could include a reprimand, suspension or removal from office, officials said.
The charges, verbatim