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More MS news articles for December 2003

Criminal Court judge makes comeback

Joan Kouros returning to bench after six-month suspension

Saturday, December 13, 2003
Bill Dolan
Northwest Indiana Times

Lake Criminal Court Judge Joan Kouros is returning to the bench after a six-month suspension for poor management.

The Indiana Supreme Court ordered her reinstatement Friday afternoon. They ruled she now appears to have control over an obsessive-compulsive disorder that affected her judicial performance and has given assurances she will administer her court better in the future.

Kouros still must face disciplinary action for letting cases she heard languish for months without written decisions, but her seasoned defense lawyer Stanley Jablonski said, "We are cautiously optimistic about the other pending matter. This is a wonderful decision. The Supreme Court handled this with a great deal of sensitivity and compassion."

Sources close to Kouros said she was depressed last summer after being removed, charged with judicial misconduct and facing the end to her judicial career. Jablonski said Friday her attitude had undergone a transformation well before Friday's announcement.

"She is a different person," he said. "She was in my office laughing one day."

The judge was attending a seminar for judicial case management training this week in San Diego and couldn't be reached Friday for comment.

The high court didn't set a date for her return. It said her transition back to a full-time judge would be coordinated with the State Court Administration and Judge Raymond Kickbush, who has been standing in for Kouros.

Former Gov. Evan Bayh appointed Kouros to the bench in 1997. Trouble began to surface in 2000 when the Lake County Bar Association campaigned for her removal because of her inability to finish a case in a timely manner.

The Supreme Court's staff investigated and reported in January 2001 they found a backlog of hundreds of case files piled in her judicial chambers awaiting her signature on decisions she made months earlier. She refused to release any paperwork until she corrected even minor punctuation errors.

The high court ordered her to amend her ways, but by last June, the justices concluded she had refused help from others until faced with an ultimatum and removed her June 27.

The Judicial Qualifications Commission, an arm of the high court responsible for policing judicial officials, charged her last September with judicial misconduct.

It alleges her tardiness resulted in 39 inmates who couldn't be moved from the county lockup here to a state prison in 2001. That resulted in overcrowding and misbehavior by some of those inmates that led to injuries.

Kouros allegedly ordered a defendant -- charged as a habitual offender -- to be held without bond, but didn't issue her decision in writing, so the defendant was mistakenly released on bond, the document said.

Kouros initially blamed her troubles on others, including the clerk's office, prosecutors, defense lawyers and her own staff.

She admitted in October she has been diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder, which was aggravated by the onset of multiple sclerosis.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder, which can be as harmless as touching wood for good luck, can also become debilitating, preventing a victim from performing even the simplest tasks without excessive deliberation and complex rituals. Jablonski said she is receiving treatment for both disorders.

The Supreme Court order dated Friday states Kouros has conferred with nine other judges to learn how to operate a busy urban court. She also has attended case management seminars in San Diego and Maine since last summer.

The order reminds Kouros the justices will continue to watch her progress.

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