The NPR story lays out the facts of this bizarre encounter between three very drunk judges and two assailants, Alfredo Vasquez and Brandon Kaiser. The encounter began after a night of alcohol consumption when one of the judges raised her middle finger to Mr. Vasquez and Mr. Kaiser who were driving in a car near a White Castle parking lot. The two men parked the car and an argument began. Things rapidly escalated and there was a brawl between two of the judges and two assailants. One of the assailants had a gun and shot the Judge Adams and Judge Jacobs. The opinion does note that two judges sustained gun shot wounds and that all three judges accepted responsibility and cooperated with the investigation.
The Indiana Supreme Court summarized the facts in this fashion:
At around 12:30 a.m. on May 1, Respondents and Clark Circuit Court Magistrate William Dawkins (“Magistrate Dawkins”) met at a local bar, where they continued to drink alcohol. At around 3:00 a.m., the group walked to a strip club and tried to enter, but found that it was closed.
The group then walked to a nearby White Castle. While Magistrate Dawkins went inside, Respondents stood outside the restaurant. At around 3:17 a.m., Alfredo Vazquez and Brandon Kaiser drove past the group and shouted something out the window. Judge Bell extended her middle finger to Vazquez and Kaiser, who pulled into the White Castle parking lot and exited the vehicle. Judge Bell, who was intoxicated, has no memory of the incident but concedes that the security camera video shows her making this gesture.
A heated verbal altercation ensued, with all participants yelling, using profanity, and making dismissive, mocking, or insolent gestures toward the other group. At no time did Respondents move to another location in the parking lot to avoid a confrontation or de-escalate the conflict.
After a verbal exchange between Judge Bell and Vazquez, a physical confrontation ensued. At one point, Judge Jacobs had Kaiser contained on the ground. With his fist raised back, Judge Jacobs said, “Okay, okay, we’re done, we’re done,” or “This is over. Tell me this is over,” or words to that effect. At another point during the confrontation, Judge Adams kicked Kaiser in the back. The confrontation ended when Kaiser pulled out a gun, shot Judge Adams once, and shot Judge Jacobs twice.
Judge Adams and Judge Jacobs were transported to local hospitals for treatment of their serious injuries. Judge Adams, who sustained a single gunshot wound to the abdomen, had two emergency surgeries, including a colon resectioning. Judge Jacobs, who sustained two gunshot wounds to the chest, also had two emergency surgeries and was hospitalized for 14 days.
The opinion explains the reasoning for the suspensions as follows:
The Commission charges, and Respondents agree, that their respective conduct violated the following provisions of the Code of Judicial Conduct:
• Rule 1.2, requiring judges to act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity, independence, and impartiality of the judiciary; and
• Rule 3.1(C), prohibiting judges from participating in extrajudicial activities that would appear to a reasonable person to undermine the judge’s integrity, independence, or impartiality.
The Commission further charges, and Judge Adams agrees, that his conduct violated Rule 1.1 of the Code of Judicial Conduct, which requires a judge to respect and comply with the law.
Our legal system “is based upon the principle that an independent, impartial, and competent judiciary, composed of men and women of integrity, will interpret and apply the law that governs our society.” Ind. Code of Judicial Conduct, Preamble. The effectiveness of the judiciary ultimately rests on the trust and confidence that citizens confer on judges. Judges, therefore, must remain vigilant to guard against any actions that erode that public trust. Respondents’ alcohol-fueled actions during the early morning hours of May 1, 2019, fell far short of the Code’s directive to “aspire at all times to conduct that ensures the greatest possible public confidence in their independence, impartiality, integrity, and competence.” Id.
Respondents acknowledge that their misconduct damaged the public’s respect for and confidence in the integrity of the Indiana judiciary, both within the state and nationally. Their misconduct occurred while they were in Indianapolis for a statewide judicial educational event, and Judge Adams’s misconduct resulted in a criminal conviction.
The Conditional Agreements note, as mitigators, the following factors:
• Respondents have no prior disciplinary history as judges or as lawyers and this misconduct constitutes an isolated incident in their judicial careers;
• Respondents have accepted responsibility and expressed remorse for their conduct;
• Respondents have made efforts to address their behavior by contacting the Judges & Lawyers Assistance Program and by seeing counselors;
• Judge Adams and Judge Jacobs suffered serious physical injuries as a result of the altercation;
• After the physical altercation began, Judge Bell made several attempts to stop the fighting, including seeking help from those inside the White Castle by pounding on the door;
• Judge Bell immediately called 911 after shots were fired;
• Judge Adams and Judge Jacobs have been active leaders in their community; and
• Judge Adams and Judge Jacobs cooperated fully with the Commission and have been forthcoming about the incident.
“The purpose of judicial discipline is not primarily to punish a judge, but rather to preserve the integrity of and public confidence in the judicial system and, when necessary, safeguard the bench and public from those who are unfit.” In re Hawkins, 902 N.E.2d 231, 244 (Ind. 2009). The sanction must be designed to deter similar misconduct and assure the public that judicial misconduct will not be condoned. Id.
Comment: Judge Adams and Judge Jacobs were suspended for 60 days. Judge Bell was suspended for 30 days. The brawl would have gotten any judge or lawyer suspended. What made the incident much worse was the presence of a handgun and the bad decision to shoot the gun. Criminal charges remain pending against Kaiser and Vasquez.