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In re Freese

Supreme Court of Indiana

June 4, 2019

In the Matter of the Honorable Robert W. Freese, Judge of the Hendricks Superior Court 1, Respondent.

         Judicial Discipline Action

          ATTORNEY FOR RESPONDENT James J. Bell Indianapolis, 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 Robert W. Freese, Judge of the Hendricks Superior Court 1, engaged in judicial misconduct by appointing an unqualified friend as trustee of a trust and personal representative of a related estate, failing to disclose the friendship or a financial relationship with the friend, and failing to act promptly when faced with mounting evidence of the friend's mismanagement and embezzlement of the funds entrusted to him.

         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 Freese. After 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 Freese has been judge of Hendricks Superior Court 1 since 2001, presiding over a docket that includes trust and estate cases. He has known Stephen Scott since about 1990, having worked with Scott in the county prosecutor's office, where Scott supervised Adult Protective Services. (Scott had also been a sheriff's deputy at the county jail.) Judge Freese lunched regularly with Scott and considered him one of his closest friends.

         In 2004, Scott needed $122, 400 to buy a home but had poor credit after a bankruptcy. Judge Freese used his line of credit to lend Scott the funds. On January 13, 2005, they executed and recorded a mortgage in that amount, and Scott gave the Judge a promissory note.

         Seventeen days later, Judge Freese appointed Scott as trustee over the Herbert Hochreiter Living Trust in Trust of Herbert Hochreiter, No. 32D01-9710-TR-000003. None of the parties objected, but the Judge never disclosed his financial arrangement with Scott.

         Later in 2005, Herbert Hochreiter died, and an estate was opened with an estimated $2.3 million in real and personal property. Judge Freese took the matter under advisement after a hearing, and on October 24 appointed Scott as personal representative of the Estate. As before, none of the parties objected, nor did the Judge disclose his financial arrangement with Scott.

         As trustee, Scott was required to provide an annual accounting of trust property, including all receipts and disbursements. Indiana Code § 30-4-5-12(a). Moreover, the court was permitted "either on petition or on its own motion" to "require the trustee to submit such proof as it deems necessary to support the trustee's verified written statement of accounts." I.C. § 30-4-5-13(b) (emphasis added). And though the Trust was created as an unsupervised trust, its terms specifically required annual reporting and accounting. Yet from 2006 through November 2009, Scott provided no annual accounting of Trust assets.

         Similarly, Scott as personal representative of the Estate was required to file a verified account of administration "upon filing a petition for final settlement," "upon the revocation of his letters," "upon his application to resign and before his resignation is accepted by the court," and "at any other time when directed by the court either of its own motion or on the application of any interested person." I.C. § 29-1-16-3 (emphasis added).

         On June 12, 2007, when the Estate had been pending for nearly two years, Judge Freese advised Scott a final report and accounting was due. Scott requested a 180-day extension (which the Judge granted) but still did not file a final report and accounting. Continuing through 2009, Scott repeatedly ...


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