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Panel to decide judge's fate

Joan Kouros Hearing: Peer says Kouros' job too big a task for her.

Friday, April 23, 2004
RuthAnn Robinson
Northwest Indiana Times

Lawyers for the Indiana Commission on Judicial Ethics argued Thursday that since Lake Criminal Court Judge Joan Kouros returned to the bench in January she is still hoarding files and not getting orders processed on time.

Kouros disagreed.

"No one questions my ruling or ability," Kouros testified to the three master judges hearing the case in Indianapolis. "The only thing is the moving of files. I've done everything else. Less than 1 percent of all files have violated the 48-hour rule, and I don't think I should be removed for that."

This is Kouros' last stand. The judges will issue a written decision June 11.

She returned to the bench after a six-month suspension for not keeping up with the paperwork for her cases. During that time, she said she learned from other judges how to better operate her court. She persuaded the Supreme Court to give her another chance to show she can do the work.

Kouros said because she suffers from multiple sclerosis, she didn't trust herself to get orders done correctly the first time so she would check and recheck. A psychiatrist diagnosed her six months ago as suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder, for which she now takes medication.

"I'm doing the best I can," Kouros said. "I'm not being as anal. I think I've really made progress."

As of March 29, she had more than 130 case files checked out from the clerk's office, a violation of the Supreme Court order to have no more than 80, and some files that contained orders sat in her chambers for up to five weeks. The Supreme Court ordered her to have all orders reduced to writing within 48 hours.

Senior Court Judge Raymond Kickbush filled in for Kouros during her suspension. He testified Thursday that he and Ron Miller, director of trial management for the judicial division of the Supreme Court, went through storage boxes from Kouros' office. He said they found an original letter from alleged serial killer Eugene Britt and two motions requesting another judge that had not been placed in the defendant's case files.

Kickbush immediately made copies, put the originals in the files, where he felt they belonged, and notified both the defense and prosecuting attorneys. He said during his time on the bench for Kouros, he returned files to the clerk's office routinely within 48 hours.

When asked if he thought Kouros was capable of running a courtroom, he said she wasn't.

"All criminal courts in Lake County are very busy," Kickbush said. "I know how they operate, and the operation in (her court) is too big a job for Joan Kouros," he said. "I'm concerned about her as an individual, but the operation of the court is more important than any individual. The operation of judiciary means doing it promptly. People are entitled to prompt justice. Anything short of that is shortchanging the defendant, the families, prosecution and defense.

"The bottom line is I just don't think she can do the job."

Copyright © 2004, Northwest Indiana Times