Thursday, February 13, 2014

Muncie Judge Sends Critic To Jail

A Muncie city court judge, Dianna Bennington, has sent a critic to jail for 10 days on contempt charges. According to the Muncie Star-Press, Judge Bennington became concerned about letters that 55-year old Curtis Westbrook was distributing outside her court that she believed was "creating confusion that disturbed the business and proceedings of the court" and was providing legal advice to defendants in her court. The dispute appears to center around Westbrook's contention that Judge Bennington deprived a member of his family the right to have their case transferred to the county court system for a jury trial rather than a bench trial in front of Judge Westbrook, a contention denied by Judge Bennington according to the Star-Press:
Curtis Westbrook
According to a document provided to The Star Press by a court employee, Westbrook was sentenced to 10 days in jail Monday after the judge ruled he was “creating confusion that disturbed the business and proceedings of the court by distributing a letter to undermine the authority of the court and to provide legal advice to defendants in the courtroom.”
That document reflects Westbrook on Monday left Bennington’s courtroom — the Muncie City Hall’s auditorium — “before he could be detained,” but was arrested when he returned for Tuesday’s court proceedings. 
Westbrook in recent weeks has distributed a letter calling the judge — who was elected to the bench in 2011 — “One-Term Bennington” and referring to her “fiasco judgeship.”
A member of Westbrook’s family was charged in Muncie City Court with domestic battery in January 2013.
Curtis Westbrook has maintained his family member, and others, have not been informed in advance that City Court trials are bench trials, with Judge Bennington, rather than a jury, deciding a defendant’s guilt or innocence. Cases of City Court defendants seeking jury trials are transferred into the Delaware Circuit Court system.
Court officials have denied Westbrook’s allegations . . .  
In October and again in November, Bennington denied motions from Westbrook’s relative to have his case heard by a jury, ruling that the deadline for making such requests had long since passed.
At a Tuesday hearing, however, the judge granted the request, and the domestic battery case will be transferred to a Circuit Court.
The letter distributed by Curtis Westbrook — and dropped off recently at The Star Press — calls the process by which City Court cases are transferred a “well-kept secret.” He also maintains Bennington and others have a financial motivation to “keep the City Court litigants in the dark concerning their right to a jury trial,” and suggests defendants could file misconduct complaints against the judge and attorneys involved in their prosecution.
“Finally, remember this come election time!” the Muncie man concludes . . .


Anonymous said...

What the judge did is criminal. She used legal process to violate a man's First Amendment rights to silence public comment and criticism of the government.

This case should bankrupt Muncie, find the judge thrown off the bench, disbarred and in jail for a while. As long as this judge is free and holds a law license, there can be no faith in the Indiana legal system.

Where are the feds? This judge should be perp-walked on federal civil rights violations into the nearest federal facility.

Is Indiana even a part of America?

Anonymous said...

The allegation that his actions were“creating confusion that disturbed the business and proceedings of the court by distributing a letter to undermine the authority of the court and to provide legal advice to defendants in the courtroom” flat out did not happen if this report is correct. Passing out fliers outside of the building cannot disturb the business and proceedings of the court, just hurt the judges feelings and, perhaps, with information on how to file a Complaint with the Commission on Judicial Qualifications generate some official complaints.

I'd call this a wrongful pre-emptive strike by that judge to prevent the filing of complaints as well as a violation of both the U. S. and Indiana State Constitutions.

I wonder if that judge ever read the first amendment to the U. S. Constitution? -Congress shall make no law to prohibit the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Has that judge ever read the Indiana Constitution, Section 9? -No law shall be passed, restraining the free interchange of thought and opinion, or restricting the right to speak, write, or print, freely, on any subject whatever: but for the abuse of that right, every person shall be responsible.

In case anyone is interested, to file a complaint against a judge for depriving a man of his freedom and violating the U. S. and State Constitutions, sign it under oath stating that the allegations are true to the best of your knowledge and belief. The Commission's address is:

30 South Meridian Street, Suite 500
Indianapolis, Indiana 46204

Anonymous said...

Federal law, 42 USC 1983: Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress, except that in any action brought against a judicial officer for an act or omission taken in such officer’s judicial capacity, injunctive relief shall not be granted unless a declaratory decree was violated or declaratory relief was unavailable. For the purposes of this section, any Act of Congress applicable exclusively to the District of Columbia shall be considered to be a statute of the District of Columbia.

Paul K. Ogden said...

When I clerked at the Court of Appeals, I wrote an opinion in which we had to sort out the differences between the types of contempt. Today I refreshed my memory on the law.

What was involved here was not civil but criminal contempt. As such she should have submitted it to the prosecutor for the possible filing of charges with the State of Indiana as the party. She would have been a witness in the case. The man would have been afforded all the rights of a criminal defendant.

In a civil contempt situation, the remedy is remedial. You can hold a person in the courtroom in contempt for disrupting court proceedings and have that person removed. A party who refuses to follow a court order you can have jailed. But the judge can't "sentence" someone for supposedly disrupting her courtroom and undermining her authority. That punitive measure is criminal contempt and the procedures have to be followed for criminal contempt. She made no effort to do that.

Anonymous said...

A few years ago, I travelled to Peru, Indiana, There was a man there picketing the CourtHouse. He had a sign that the Prosecutor's Child Support division and one of the Judges there were unfair to custodial parents and carried it around the CourtHouse sidewalk during business hours. No one paid much attention to him.

An interesting question here in the Muncie case is that City Courts are not Courts of Record, so how can appellate level Courts easily determine whether the man adjudicated in contempt of Court
was afforded appropriate due process, if there was no Court

Anonymous said...

I would be interested in hearing the full story. I question this because Judge Bennington was instrumental in finding $11,000 from the City Clerk's Office.

In addition, I believe Bennington initiated an investigation into Action, Inc (State funded agency) by the State police.

She also was instrumental in putting together the Delaware County Veterans Court and has presided over some very well known animal cruelty cases.

In the cases involving animal cruelty, namely a puppy named Garby, was thrown into the trash, Bennington a strong animal advocate, administered the punishment based upon law and not personal feelings.

I find this all so out of character for this judge and so typical of politics in this county.