The Indiana Commission on Judicial Qualifications admonished the Fremont Town Court judge Monday, saying she assumed the role of a prosecutor in a traffic case.
Judge Martha C. Hagerty was praised by the commission for making changes to how her office functioned and cooperating fully in the process, according to the document.
Hagerty is not a lawyer. Under Indiana law, a person does not have to be an attorney to serve as an elected town court judge. Town courts are able to handle criminal misdemeanors as well as traffic and ordinance violations.
According to the judicial admonishment, Hagerty attempted to negotiate a resolution to a defendant’s case after he inquired about the status of his traffic ticket. She also had several conversations with the Steuben County Prosecutor’s Office about the case without the defendant present.
In November 2008, a defendant called the court to ask why his license was suspended – he had either failed to pay the fine or failed to appear in court. Hagerty told him why his license was suspended and said he’d need to pay the fine, plus the same amount again to have his license reinstated.
In June 2009, the man sent a letter to the judge, saying he wanted to contest the ticket.
The man followed up with a phone call, and Hagerty told him, without a prosecutor present, that she told the Bureau of Motor Vehicles to suspend his license, as well as what he would need to pay.
She did not set the matter for a hearing, according to the documents.
On a number of other occasions, the man called asking for the status of his case, as well as asking for a hearing. Hagerty told the defendant about an offer she made about the case to the prosecutor. He said he still wanted a hearing.
By May 2011, the man still had not had his hearing and filed a motion for discovery. Hagerty did not issue a ruling on the motion but instead called the prosecutor to discuss it.
After talking it over with the prosecutor, Hagerty denied his motion. The man, still frustrated about having not had a hearing, continued to send letters to the court. On Jan. 13, 2012, the prosecutor decided to dismiss the ticket and expunge the man’s driving record after a conversation with the judge, according to the documents.
Hagerty acknowledged to the commission that her conduct of repeatedly engaging in conversations with either side without the other one present was a violation of the judicial code of conduct.
She also acknowledged that, by communicating an offer to resolve the ticket to the defendant, she gave the impression that she stood in the role of prosecutor as well as judge, according to the documents.
That too is a violation of the judicial code of conduct.
The commission said it did not file formal charges in large part because Hagerty immediately took action to fix some problems in the office that may have contributed to the situation. She established a separate office for the judge, rearranged court hours to assure office coverage and allowed the court clerk to share responsibilities with the town’s water clerk, according to the document.
Had Judge Hagerty not been so responsive to the commission’s concerns and taken immediate corrective action, the commission would have been included to pursue a stronger course of action, according to the documents.
Adam Henry, Hagerty’s lawyer, said the situation led to some positive changes and improvements to Fremont Town Court.