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In re Johnson

Supreme Court of Indiana

May 17, 2017

In the Matter of: Joseph M. Johnson III, Respondent.

         Attorney Discipline Action Hearing Officer Robert C. Reiling, Jr.

          ATTORNEY FOR RESPONDENT Donald R. Lundberg Indianapolis, Indiana.

          ATTORNEYS FOR THE INDIANA SUPREME COURT DISCIPLINARY COMMISSION G. Michael Witte, Executive Director Angie Ordway, Staff Attorney Indianapolis, Indiana.

          PER CURIAM.

         We find that Respondent, Joseph M. Johnson III, committed attorney misconduct in connection with his pattern of harassment of an ex-girlfriend. For this misconduct, we conclude that Respondent should be suspended for at least one year without automatic reinstatement.

         This matter is before the Court on the report of the hearing officer appointed by this Court to hear evidence on the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission's "Verified Complaint for Disciplinary Action, " and on the post-hearing briefing by the parties. Respondent's 2003 admission to this state's bar subjects him to this Court's disciplinary jurisdiction. See Ind. Const. art. 7, § 4.

         Procedural Background and Facts

         During most relevant times, Respondent was the chief public defender in Adams County. He also was married. In 2010, Respondent had an affair with "Jane Doe" ("J.D.") that ended after several months.

         In March 2014, Respondent ran into J.D., who was at the courthouse in connection with her conviction for operating while intoxicated. A short time later, at Respondent's behest J.D. met him for dinner at a restaurant, and Respondent told J.D. that his wife was leaving him. Thereafter, Respondent began persistently calling J.D. J.D. told Respondent she did not wish to have a relationship with him and repeatedly told him to stop contacting her, to no avail. During one of these calls, Respondent was crying and J.D. overheard Respondent shoot a gun several times.

         Respondent continued to call and text J.D. and contact her through Facebook. Respondent also appeared uninvited at J.D.'s apartment, stood in the doorway and prevented J.D. from closing the door, and refused to leave. The police were summoned and Respondent was issued a No Trespass Order.

         Respondent persisted in calling and texting J.D., and he additionally attempted to contact J.D. through her roommate. J.D. continued to plead with Respondent to stop contacting her, still to no avail. A police officer told Respondent to cease contacting J.D. and never to go to her residence again. Respondent responded to J.D. by threatening to have her children taken from her and to create trouble for J.D. through her probation officer.

         At one point, Respondent sent an identical text message to J.D. five times in a single day, and during the overnight hours of the following morning Respondent placed a hard copy of the text outside J.D.'s front door. J.D. immediately reported this to the police. Later that day, Respondent traveled to J.D.'s apartment, arriving at the same time J.D.'s children were dropped off by the school bus. J.D. hurried her children inside. Respondent entered the building and stood outside J.D.'s apartment. J.D. was terrified of these actions. A police officer confronted Respondent later that evening and demanded he cease all contact with J.D., once again to no avail.

         J.D. obtained a protective order against Respondent. When an officer served Respondent with the order, Respondent responded by telling the officer that J.D. had violated her probation. Respondent later made similar reports to J.D.'s probation officer. Attempting to leverage his role as public defender, Respondent continued to contact J.D.'s probation officer to see if a violation would be filed. J.D. admitted having a glass of wine at dinner with Respondent, and as a consequence she received a 10-day sentence, suspended on condition she not violate probation again.

         The Indiana State Police ("ISP") became involved, and Respondent was arrested and charged with two misdemeanor counts of trespass and one felony count of making a false statement. In October 2014, Respondent was found guilty of one count of trespass. He was placed on informal ...


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