A tragedy played out yesterday in an ongoing child custody battle on the city's northeast side when Shirley Justice's ex-husband, Christopher Justice, allegedly confronted her and shot her multiple times in the parking lot of a daycare center where she had dropped their daughter off for the day. Christopher has been on the run since the shooting yesterday morning, which left Shirley in critical condition. Here's the family's statement as reported by WTHR's Steve Jefferson:
"We thank everyone for their prayers and outgoing support in this tragedy. Sadly, we were not surprised Christopher Justice would resort to this level of violence. The catalyst to this six-year abusive situation was a praecipe filed by Shirley, as the judge was out of compliance and this removed him from the case. Any order signed by Judge McCarty was negated, and the order he signed would have given the documented domestic violence abuser, custody of their daughter. Custody has been a battle involving mandated psychiatric testing, which came back that she was more than stable and equipped to be a parent, and bias against a single parent with limited resources. Any other references to her character in court documents are conjecture of Christopher's lawyer and his family. We are outraged that Indiana DCS and Family Court did not use the documented information over the years to avoid this devastation to our family. If anyone sees or hears from Christopher, please contact the police department immediately."As Jefferson's story reports, there has been a protracted battle between Shirley and Christopher since their divorce was granted on March 13, 2009 nine months after Christopher filed for divorce. The Court granted joint legal custody for their daughter with Shirley having primary physical custody of her upon the conclusion of the original divorce proceeding. Jefferson's report indicates that Shirley had filed protective orders against her ex-husband on several occasions, although no order was in place at the time of the shooting.
The triggering event for the shooting appears to be a series of events that played out the week of February 10, 2014. A child custody modification motion filed by the father was heard by Marion Superior Court #3, which is presided over by Judge Patrick McCarty, on November 8, 2013. After more than three months passed without a ruling from the court, Shirley filed a praecipe pro se to remove the case from the court pursuant to Trial Rule 53.1 for failing to rule in a timely fashion. The so-called "lazy judge rule" generally requires a judge to rule on a pending motion within 30 days, unless one of the exceptions provided under the rule applies. The court has 90 days for matters tried that are taken under advisement by the court and entered as such in the CCS. When a party properly files a praecipe under Trial Rule 53.1, the clerk of the courts is required to notify the state court administrator's office, which determines whether the case should be removed from the court it has been assigned and reassigned to a special judge.
According to the chronological case summary, Judge Patrick McCarty issued an order the same day that Shirley filed her lazy judge motion. His order granted the father sole legal and physical custody of the child and ordered Shirley to begin paying child support in the amount of $127 per week to Christopher, retroactive to November 8, 2013. The draconian order stripped Shirley of any overnight time with her daughter. The order entered on the CCS indicates that when she exercised her severely limited parenting time that she was not to allow any male to be present. Upon investigation of the praecipe Shirley filed on February 10, 2014, the Supreme Court rapidly issued an order on February 13 removing the case from Judge McCarty, effective at 8:20 a.m. on February 10, 2014, the same day that a CCS entry was entered reflecting his order stripping Shirley of physical and joint custody of her daughter. This is how the CCS entry entered on February 14, 2014, reflecting the Supreme Court order reads:
Order Received from the Indiana Supreme Court
If the Executive Director determines that a ruling or decision has been delayed beyond the time limitation set forth under Trial Rule 53.1 or 53.2, the Executive Director shall give written notice of the determination to the judge, the Clerk of the trial court, and the Clerk of the Supreme Court of Indiana that the submission of the case has been withdrawn from the judge. The withdrawal is effective as of the time of the filing of the praecipe. The Clerk of the trial court shall record this determination in the Chronological Case Summary under the cause and provide notice to all parties in the case. The Executive Director shall submit the case to the Supreme Court of Indiana for appointment of a special judge or such other action deemed appropriate by the Supreme Court.Once the Supreme Court withdraws a case from a judge, the judge is required to report to the Supreme Court within 10 days explaining "the nature of the matters held in excess of the time limitations." The judge is also permitted to relate to the Supreme Court any "other facts or circumstances" which he deems pertinent to the delay in ruling on the matter. As I interpret the rule, Judge McCarty could not issue a binding order in the case if the Supreme Court determined that the duly-filed praecipe was filed prior to his order being issued. It's a big no-no for a judge to rush to issue an order after the lazy judge motion is tendered to the court until the Supreme Court has decided whether the case should be withdrawn from the court.
One can only surmise that confusion over the impact of the Supreme Court's order led to a confrontation between the father and mother over the operable child custody order. An attorney representing the father, Jennifer Bays Beinart, tells Fox 59 news that she was filing a motion with the court to compel Shirley to turn custody of her daughter over to Christopher when she learned of the tragic shooting. In her interview with Fox59 news, Beinart made no mention of the case being withdrawn from Judge McCarty per the Supreme Court's order or the impact that order may have had on Judge McCarty's earlier ruling stripping Shirley of custody of her daughter. The case is very complicated. Both sides have gone through successive changes in attorneys and have gone without representation at times. It's not clear to me what the default custody arrangement would be once McCarty's order was dissolved.
An arrest warrant for Christopher's arrest on attempted murder charges has been issued. He remains on the run. Steve Jefferson reported that Christopher used two guns to shoot Shirley multiple times before fleeing the scene and returning to his apartment. He was later seen leaving the apartment a short time later with a duffel bag. The Supreme Court has ordered the court's file on the latest motion filed in the case by the father's attorney withheld from the media due to the large volume of media inquiries and the sensitivity of an ongoing investigation it is undertaking in the matter.
UPDATE: The Supreme Court has appointed Judge David Shaheed pursuant to Trial Rule 53.2 as the special judge in this matter per an order released by the court late this afternoon for failing to rule on a matter tried and taken under advisement by the court after the passage of more than 90 days. Hat tip to Indiana Law Blog.
On a personal note, I have a lot more information concerning this matter that I have chosen to refrain from reporting at this time in hopes that it will be handled through the appropriate investigative procedures in due course and dealt with accordingly.
UPDATE II: Fox 59 News reports that Christopher Justice has been apprehended in Lexington, Kentucky tonight and is being returned to Indianapolis where he will face attempted murder charges.
UPDATE III: WTHR releases this statement from the family of Christopher Justice: