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In re Bennington

Supreme Court of Indiana

February 10, 2015

IN THE MATTER OF THE HONORABLE DIANNA L. BENNINGTON, JUDGE OF THE MUNCIE CITY COURT

Page 959

ATTORNEY FOR HON. DIANNA L. BENNINGTON, JUDGE: Robert G. Forbes, Hartford City, Indiana.

ATTORNEYS FOR THE COMMISSION ON JUDICIAL QUALIFICATIONS: Adrienne L. Meiring, Mary Elizabeth Daulton, Indianapolis, Indiana.

All Justices concur.

Page 960

JUDICIAL DISCIPLINARY ACTION

Per Curiam.

This matter comes before the Court as a result of a judicial disciplinary action brought by the Indiana Commission on Judicial Qualifications (" Commission" )

Page 961

against the Respondent, Dianna L. Bennington, Judge of the Muncie City Court. Article 7, section 4 of the Indiana Constitution and Indiana Admission and Discipline Rule 25 give the Indiana Supreme Court original jurisdiction over this matter.

Subsequent to the filing of formal charges by the Commission, the parties jointly tendered a " Statement of Circumstances and Conditional Agreement for Discipline" stipulating to certain facts and violations of the Code of Judicial Conduct. This Court accepted the parties' joint submission and agreed sanction by an order issued on January 23, 2015, which permanently banned the Respondent from serving in any judicial capacity of any kind, including but not limited to service as a judge pro tempore, temporary judge, or private judge. The order also required the Respondent to tender her resignation to the Governor by January 28, 2015, which she has done. The Respondent will be assessed certain costs agreed to by the parties in a separate order taxing costs, but she will be permitted to retain her license to practice law in Indiana.

The stipulated facts and violations fall into four categories: (a) misuse of judicial authority; (b) failure to follow proper legal procedures in guilty plea and sentencing hearings; (c) injudicious behavior outside of the courtroom; and (d) noncooperation with the Commission.

I. Misuse of judicial authority

On August 27, 2013, defendant John W. Ewing (" Ewing" ) appeared before the Respondent for a bench trial on one count of cruelty to an animal, a Class A misdemeanor. See Ind. Code § 35-46-3-7 (2013). He was unrepresented, since the Respondent had denied his earlier request for a public defender. Following the hearing, the Respondent found Ewing guilty and ordered him to meet with a probation officer for a presentence investigation to be completed.

On November 19, 2013, Ewing appeared before the Respondent, again without counsel, for sentencing. While testifying about the current whereabouts of the dog at issue on the convicted count, Ewing also referred to other dogs in his possession or under his control. The Respondent questioned him about these other animals but was not satisfied with his responses. She therefore found him in contempt and ordered him jailed until further order of the court. She did not (a) sentence Ewing to a set time in jail for contempt, (b) indicate when he would be released, (c) reduce her order to writing as Indiana Code section 34-47-2-4 requires, (d) appoint him an attorney before jailing him for contempt, nor (e) inform him of his right to appeal his contempt sentence. Cf. State ex rel. Allen v. Vermillion ...


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