Prosecutor faults judge for freeing employee
Justice lifted $30,000 bail and ordered jail to release bailiff accused of domestic battery.
By Vic Ryckaert[email protected]
The county prosecutor says Marion Superior Court Judge Grant Hawkins crossed ethical boundaries this week when he ordered the jail to release one of his employees after she was arrested on domestic battery charges.
Hawkins on Thursday said he made the right decision when he eliminated bailiff Cathy Wickersham's $30,000 bond hours after her arrest for allegedly slapping her estranged boyfriend Tuesday night.
"If anything looks wrong, it's that she got treatment that 10,000 others would not get because I knew enough of the back story to be confident in my release decision," Hawkins said.
Prosecutor Carl Brizzi thinks Hawkins abused his authority. Brizzi said he has not decided whether he will file an official complaint with the Indiana Supreme Court.
Wickersham, a bailiff in Hawkins' court since 2002, was arrested at a home in the 6100 block of Monteo Drive that she once shared with Christopher Buckley, the father of one of her three children.
Marion County sheriff's deputies were called to the home about midnight after the couple had been arguing. Buckley, 28, told police Wickersham slapped him. Wickersham claims Buckley hit himself in the face so police would place her under arrest.
On a typical battery case, first-time offenders are often released shortly after their arrest without having to post bond. But the county's rules require a minimum $30,000 bond on anyone accused of domestic abuse.
Wickersham, 28, earns a salary of $23,619. Hawkins, who learned of her arrest Wednesday morning, said he knew she would be unable to raise the $3,000 needed to gain her release.
"The reason for (a higher than standard) bond in a domestic relations case is you want to guarantee a cooling-off period, you want to heighten the likelihood that a person will appear in court," Hawkins said. "She's got three minor kids. She works in the court. I knew she wasn't a menace to herself or others."
Confident that Wickersham posed no threat, Hawkins sent an e-mail to Judge Clark Rogers, who was assigned to preside over the case, explaining the situation and seeking to hasten Wickersham's release.
Rogers did not respond to Hawkins and instead contacted Court Administrator Mark Renner and explained he had concerns that Hawkins might be putting him in a situation that violates judicial ethics.
Contacted Thursday, Rogers declined to discuss the case and deferred comment to Renner.
"He was very uncomfortable," Renner said. "He called me to put me on notice and to make sure there was a record of his concern and his refusal to discuss the case."
Later, defense lawyer Arnold Baratz spoke to Rogers on Wickersham's behalf.
"He basically said he wasn't going to OK it, but if Judge Hawkins wanted to do that it was OK," Baratz said.
Baratz relayed the conversation to Hawkins, and Hawkins authorized Wickersham's release. However, Renner said Rogers never agreed to free Wickersham.
Had Rogers expressed those concerns, Hawkins said he never would have authorized Wickersham's release.
Hawkins thinks he made the correct decision but now wishes he had contacted Rogers personally before acting.
"My concern is not whether she's guilty or not; that's for the system to work out," Hawkins said. "The question is whether or not the need for the $30,000 bond applied."
Henry Karlson, a professor at Indiana University School of Law-Indianapolis, said the facts of the case suggest Wickersham likely would have been freed without bond or on a low bond within a couple of days.
Hawkins' actions are inappropriate but not egregious, Karlson said.
"It's not that it's the wrong decision, it's that it gives the appearance of impropriety," Karlson said.