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Opening Arguments

Judging the judge

Anybody have any sympathy for Judge Kenneth Scheibenberger, who now faces formal charges of judicial misconduct before the Indiana Supreme Court? I have some:

On November 30, 2007, Judge Scheibenberger suspended his court session and proceeded to the courtroom of Judge Frances C. Gull, Allen Superior Court, for the purpose of observing a sentencing hearing of a defendant in Judge Gull's court. Judge Scheibenberger sat in the gallery wearing his judicial robe while the man was sentenced for a weapons violation.

As the sentencing hearing concluded, Judge Scheibenberger moved to the front of the courtroom, approached the deputy prosecutor, and created a disturbance during which he told the deputy prosecutor that the defendant was a drug dealer and declared, "Upstanding citizen, my ass!" in reference to a comment he heard during the sentencing. Judge Scheibenberger then turned to the man's parents, who were seated in the front row. He said to them, "Are you related to that piece of shit? Upstanding citizen, my ass! He'll get his!" or words to that effect.

Judges perhaps more than any other professionals are supposed to leave their personal lives at the door. They're charged with maintaining the dignity of the court and its neutrality. They're supposed to be impartial, logical and free of passion. When we think of actually getting justice from the criminal justice system, we look first to the judges. So the Indiana Commission on Judicial Qualifications can't be faulted for taking the actions it did.

But Scheibenberger let his grief as a parent overwhelm his judicial sensibilities. He believed the man had dealt drugs to his son, Sam, who died in August. A few years ago, he got an admonition from the commission because he go his son's file on a misdemeanor arrest and delayed the case, a clear use of judicial power for personal interest.

I'm not saying the Supreme Court should be lenient with the judge, or even arguing about how good a judge he has or has not been.


Wed, 07/16/2008 - 9:05am

The judge's personal loss makes me see this story in a much different light than I did initially. Thanks for publishing this information, Leo. I'll bet there are a lot of us who would sympathize with his impulses under these circumstances even if we acknowledge he did wrong.

mark garvin
Wed, 07/16/2008 - 10:01am

From the comments posted on various internet sites, it seems many are unclear on what happened.

1. Judge Sheibenberger was not handling this case.

2. The defendant had already been convicted. The judge's comments in no way prejudiced his right to a fair trial.

3. The sentencing hearing was before Judge Gull and she, alone, decides the sentence. It is extremely unlikely that she would be influenced by the comments in any way that would be detrimental to the defendant.

4. While it is not entirely clear from the published reports, it seems that Judge Scheibenberger made no comments until AFTER the Defendant was sentenced, so his remarks could not have influenced the sentencing.

Leo, if the Judge was so wilfully disruptive, why was there no coverage of this event when it occurred?

Leo Morris
Wed, 07/16/2008 - 10:32am

Good question.

Wed, 07/16/2008 - 1:32pm

Who killed his son? The dealer, the drugs or the son himself?

The judge was yelling at the wrong guy, in any case. Especially when he's part of the War on Drugs that created the situation anyway.

Of course, the judge's drug of choice was alcohol, wasn't it? Fortunately for him, that one isn't arbitrarily outlawed, so he only had to go to rehab.

Wed, 07/16/2008 - 1:58pm

I'm surprised judges keep it together as well psychologically as they do, by and large. Many of them hear awful things day in and day out. And, they live in a sort of a social bubble. They are expected to comport themselves in a better fashion than the rest of us. And, to the extent their old friends were lawyers, they probably don't interact with their friends with the same degree of openness they could have before they became the judge.

tim zank
Thu, 07/17/2008 - 5:23pm

My heart goes out to him and his family, it's a terrible loss. However, his (the judge) behavior is a fuzz out of line. Everybody has problems and heartaches, but you can't let it interfere with your job. Understandable? yes. excusable? no...