Ethics

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Three Indiana judges have received short suspensions for their role in a fight in a White Castle parking lot that left two of the judges injured from gunshot wounds.

The judges’ actions “were not merely embarrassing on a personal level; they discredited the entire Indiana judiciary,” the Indiana Supreme Court said in its Nov. 12 opinion imposing discipline. The ethics charges were filed in October.

The judges were involved in a May 1 altercation with two other men after a night of drinking in Indianapolis, where they were attending a judicial conference. One of the other men fired shots, sending the two male judges to the hospital.

The Indianapolis Star and the Washington Post have coverage of the Indiana Supreme Court’s decision.

A Clark County judge who pleaded guilty to misdemeanor battery for his role in the incident, Andrew Adams, received the toughest sanction. Already on an interim, paid suspension since June 28, Adams is suspended without pay for 60 more days. When he was transported to the hospital for a gunshot wound to the abdomen, he had a whole blood alcohol level of 0.157. It is illegal to drive in Indiana with a blood alcohol level of 0.08.

The other two judges received 30-day suspensions without pay. They are Sabrina Bell of Crawford County and Bradley Jacobs of Clark County. When Jacobs was taken to the hospital for two gunshot wounds to the chest, his whole blood alcohol level was 0.13.

The man accused of firing the gunshots, Brandon Kaiser, is charged with felony aggravated assault, along with felony and misdemeanor battery. His nephew, Alfredo Vazquez, was convicted of a probation violation and misdemeanor battery, according to the Indianapolis Star.

The Indiana Supreme Court explained what prompted the fight.

The judges were outside the White Castle at about 3:17 a.m., while a fourth magistrate judge went inside. Kaiser and Vazquez drove past the judges outside the White Castle and shouted something out the window.

Bell raised her middle finger at Kaiser and Vazquez, who pulled into the White Castle and got out of their vehicle. Bell has no memory of what happened because of her intoxication, but security video shows her making the gesture.

“A heated verbal altercation ensued, with all participants yelling, using profanity, and making dismissive, mocking or insolent gestures toward the other group,” the Indiana Supreme Court said. None of the judges moved to another location or sought to de-escalate the conflict, the court said.

The physical fight began after a verbal exchange between Bell and Vazquez. At one point, Jacobs had Kaiser contained on the ground, the Indiana Supreme Court said. With his fist raised back, Jacobs said something to the effect of, “OK, OK, we’re done, we’re done,” or, “This is over. Tell me this is over.”

Bell made several attempts to stop the fight, including by pounding on the door of the White Castle to seek help, the court said.

At another point, Adams kicked Kaiser in the back. The confrontation ended when Kaiser allegedly pulled out a gun and shot Adams and Jacobs. Bell immediately called 911.

At the police station, Bell told detectives, “I feel like this is all my fault.” She says she has no memory of the statement. When informed of the video of her statement, Bell said she is afraid that she said something to the two men first, but she doesn’t know.

“I’m not denying that I said something or egged it on … because I drink,” she said. “I mean I fully acknowledge that I drink and get mouthy, and I’m fiery and I’m feisty, but if I would have ever thought for a second that they were gonna fight or that that guy had a gun on him, I would never, never … ”

The Indiana Supreme Court said all three judges “engaged in judicial misconduct by appearing in public in an intoxicated state and behaving in an injudicious manner and by becoming involved in a verbal altercation.” Adams and Jacobs also engaged in misconduct by becoming involved in a physical altercation, the court said.

In mitigation, none of the judges has prior disciplinary history, and all accepted responsibility for their conduct. Adams and Jacobs have been active leaders in their community, they cooperated fully in the ethics case, and they “have been forthcoming about the incident,” the court said.

The judges have also made efforts to address their behavior by contacting the Judges & Lawyers Assistance Program and by seeing counselors.