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In re Johanningsmeier

Supreme Court of Indiana

August 10, 2018

In the Matter of the Honorable Ryan D. Johanningsmeier, Judge of the Knox Superior Court 2, Respondent.

         Judicial Discipline Action

          ATTORNEY FOR RESPONDENT Patrick J. Olmstead Greenwood, Indiana

          ATTORNEYS FOR INDIANA COMMISSION ON JUDICIAL QUALIFICATIONS Adrienne L. Meiring, Counsel to the Commission Marcus McGhee, Staff Attorney to the Commission Indianapolis, Indiana

          OPINION

          PER CURIAM.

         We find that Respondent, the Honorable Ryan D. Johanningsmeier, Judge of the Knox Superior Court 2, engaged in judicial misconduct by his actions in, and failure to recuse from, a close friend's traffic-infraction case.

         The matter is before us on the Indiana Commission on Judicial Qualifications' ("Commission's") "Notice of the Institution of Formal Proceedings and Statement of Charges" against Judge Johanningsmeier. Together with the filing of formal charges, the parties jointly tendered a "Statement of Circumstances and Conditional Agreement for Discipline" stipulating to the following facts.

         Stipulated Facts

         Judge Johanningsmeier has been judge of Knox Superior Court 2 since January 2015. He is close friends with B.K., who received a speeding ticket in April 2015.

         On June 18, 2015-shortly after vacationing with Judge Johanningsmeier -B.K. failed to appear in Bicknell City Court on the ticket, so default judgment was entered and his license was suspended for failure to appear. On June 30, 2015, B.K. filed a petition for a trial de novo in Judge Johanningsmeier's court. Judge Johanningsmeier granted the motion the same day and reinstated B.K.'s license, without giving the prosecutor opportunity to respond (thus violating Trial De Novo Rule 2(E)) or disclosing the conflict.

         The situation came to the Commission's attention and resulted in a March 9, 2016 private caution letter advising Judge Johanningsmeier that his close friendship with B.K. would cause a reasonable person to question his impartiality under Indiana Judicial Conduct Rule 2.11(A). Despite the caution, Judge Johanningsmeier did not recuse and did not set the matter for hearing. The case remained in limbo until early 2017.

         Meanwhile, shortly before Christmas 2016 and while the case was still pending, Judge Johanningsmeier posted on Facebook a photo of himself, his sister, and B.K. at a party in the Judge's home. The photo, which B.K. "liked," was visible to the public and showed that Judge Johanningsmeier and B.K. were close friends.

         On March 6, 2017-almost a year after Judge Johanningsmeier's private caution letter-the prosecutor moved for bench trial in B.K.'s case. Instead of recusing, Judge Johanningsmeier set the motion for hearing on March 20, 2017. At the hearing, he stated on the record that the case involved "a friend of mine" and "I was hoping we could just get the State to dismiss it." The prosecutor immediately orally moved to dismiss the case, and Judge Johanningsmeier granted the motion.

         Discussion

         The Commission charges, and Judge Johanningsmeier agrees, that his conduct violated six provisions ...


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