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More MS news articles for June 2004

Kouros to keep spot on bench, for now

Lake County Courts: State says judge is still untidy, but won't recommend discharging her

Tuesday, June 15, 2004
Bill Dolan
North-West Indiana Times

A panel of state judges declined Monday to recommend the removal of Lake Criminal Court Judge Joan Kouros, despite new evidence of administrative disarray in her court.

"We look at this as encouraging," said Kouros' lawyer, Stanley Jablonski of Merrillville, after the 48-page opinion was released.

Nevertheless, the Indiana Supreme Court could suspend her for a second time and ultimately remove her from the bench later this year for repeatedly failing to get her work done in a timely manner. The report also indicated the possibility that Kouros has been offered the opportunity to retire as judge.

With the criminal court closed Monday because of a power outage, Kouros wasn't available for comment on the critical review of her judicial career by three judges from Evansville, Fort Wayne and Indianapolis.

The Supreme Court appointed the three, called masters, to examine her job performance. Most of the opinion recounts her problems and failure to correct them.

The masters conclude Kouros falsely certified to the Supreme Court she would comply with rules of good administrative practices and thus "committed willful misconduct and conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice ... and undermined public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary."

They said, in mitigation, she sufferers from multiple sclerosis, obsessive-compulsive disorder and depression, although her doctors said none of her health issues -- with proper care and treatment -- should interfere with her ability to do the job.

They said she hasn't "intentionally neglected her duties or dismissed their importance. By all accounts she is a good judge in all respects excepting gross inefficiencies and delays in performing her tasks."

Jablonski said, "We are very pleased the masters found that Judge Kouros, with the proper use of personnel and her time, will be able to meet the standards set by the canons of the Indiana Supreme Court."

Meg Babcock, counsel for the Judicial Qualifications Commission, which prosecutes judicial misconduct, declined comment Monday, but said the commission soon could recommend Kouros' suspension until the Supreme Court renders a final verdict on her judicial career.

Kouros was appointed judge in 1997. Lawyers practicing in her court began complaining four years ago she was slow in completing routine paperwork.

The Supreme Court first asked Kouros' fellow judges to help her improve. They said she initially refused their assistance.

The Judicial Qualifications Commission reviewed her court and found a backlog of hundreds of cases awaiting her signature on decisions made months earlier. Her tardiness aggravated overcrowding in the county lockup by preventing inmates from being transferred to a state prison.

The high court issued warnings and detailed instructions two years ago on how to manage her paperwork. She failed to comply, and the high court suspended her for six months last year. Raymond Kickbush, a retired judge from Porter County, said he had to labor excessively to return her court to normalcy.

Kouros admitted last fall her obsessive-compulsive disorder prevents her from performing routine jobs without excessive deliberation. The high court reinstated her in January, but the evidence indicates Kouros has fallen into the old pattern.

"Photographs of Judge Kouros' bench and offices in March 29, 2004, reflect her return to substantial disorder," the masters wrote.

They found Kouros failed in at least 40 criminal cases between January and March to return written summaries of her decisions to the court clerk's office within 48 hours as required by the Supreme Court. In some cases, she delayed two months or more.

She sentenced one man to prison but he remained in the county jail for more than a month. He complained he was denied prison incentives, including credit toward early release. In two cases, police couldn't act to arrest accused criminals because of her delay, the masters found.

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