Judges just want to have fun. But there’s a time and a place for everything.
Three Indiana circuit court judges — the “honorable” Andrew Adams, Bradley Jacobs and Sabrina Bell — concluded that they had found the perfect time and place to blow off some steam: an out-of-town trip to a Spring Judicial College in the big city of Indianapolis.
Circumstances, however, went awry. How awry?
Let’s put it this way — it would have been far better for them if the strip club they visited at 3 a.m. had been open. But it was closed. Things went downhill from there.
Ultimately, the events of the evening and early morning hours on April 30/May 1 resulted in a brawl, a shooting, arrests and suspensions from their jobs as punishment for their “injudicious” conduct.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
Let’s set this scene over, starting back at their hotel, where conviviality was the judicial order of the day.
The evening began with some “socializing with other judicial officers and drinking alcoholic beverages.” That amounted to what college kids call “pre-pounding,” drinking early in the evening as preparation for drinking later in the evening.
The Indiana Supreme Court picks up the narrative from there.
“At around 12:30 a.m. on May 1, (the three judges) and Clark Circuit Court Magistrate William Dawkins met at a local bar, where they continued to drink alcohol. At around 3 a.m., the group walked to a strip club and tried to enter, but found it was closed,” the court said in its Nov. 12 finding on “Judicial Discipline Actions.”
Ultimately, the group found itself in the parking lot of a White Castle. Dawkins went in to get something to eat while the three judges milled around outside.
It was then that two men in a truck drove by, one of whom “shouted something.”
Bell told authorities that she was so intoxicated, she had no memory of any of the events. But security camera video showed that she “extended her middle finger” to the two men in the truck — Alfredo Vasquez and Brandon Kaiser.
How did Bell explain her abandonment of appropriate judicial temperament in the face of provocation? It seems the veteran jurist acknowledges that she’s a bit of a spitfire.
“I mean, I fully acknowledge that I drink and get mouthy, and I’m fiery and I’m feisty,” she later told police.
Her Feistiness, plus Adams and Jacobs, then watched as the men in the truck stopped and challenged them. Instead of “mov(ing) to another location in the parking lot or de-escalat(ing) the conflict,” the judges and the motorists started woofing back and forth at each other.
None of the judges apparently thought to yell, “Order! Order in the parking lot!”
“A heated verbal altercation ensued, with all participants yelling, using profanity and making dismissive, mocking or insolent gestures toward the other group,” the court opinion states.
A melee ensued. At one point, “Judge Adams kicked Kaiser in the back.” At another, “Judge Jacobs had Kaiser contained on the ground ... with his fist raised back.”
(Just to interrupt the narrative for a moment, Judge Jacobs’ facility for fisticuffs raises some money-raising possibilities. Who, after all, needs a bailiff to maintain order if the judge can start whipping up on lawyers, litigants or courtroom observers who act out?)
Back to the story. Judge Jacobs started to have some second thoughts about the brawl. So, just as he was about to pound Kaiser, he suddenly declared, “OK, OK, we’re done, we’re done.”
So were they done? Not by a literal long shot.
Kaiser “pulled out a gun, shot Judge Adams once, and shot Judge Jacobs twice.”
Pretty soon, the White Castle parking lot was crawling with ambulances to treat the injured and police officers to investigate what had happened. Oh, yes, television news crews also showed up.
Judge Adams, whose blood alcohol level was 0.213 (nearly three time the legal limit), was shot in the abdomen. He “had two emergency surgeries, including a colon resectioning.”
Judge Jacobs, whose blood alcohol level was 0.177 (more than twice the legal limit), underwent “two emergency surgeries and was hospitalized for 14 days.”
Judge Bell, whose blood alcohol was not measured, was not injured. She copped to being responsible for instigating the mess.
“I’m not denying that I said something or egged it on ...” she told police.
The whole thing took some sorting out, first by the courts and then by the judicial discipline system.
Judge Jacobs “was the target of a grand jury investigation in June 2019, but no criminal charges were filed against him. ... Judge Adams pleaded guilty to a Class A misdemeanor” (for kicking Kaiser) and was “sentenced to 365 days in jail, with 363 days suspended.”
Kaiser, who fired the shots, faces multiple felony and misdemeanor charges. He has a trial scheduled for January.
Vasquez pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor battery charge and did a short stint in jail.
Whatever their reactions behind the scenes, the justices of the Indiana Supreme Court unanimously engaged in a public chorus of tut-tutting and finger-wagging.
After recounting the unfortunate events of the evening, the trio “joined in a profane verbal altercation that quickly turned into physical violence and ended in gunfire, and in doing so, gravely undermined public trust in the dignity and decency of Indiana’s judiciary,” the justices noted.
They suspended Judge Adams for 60 days without pay and Judges Jacobs and Bell for 30 days each to assure the public that “judicial misconduct will not be condoned.”
Jim Dey, a member of The News-Gazette staff, can be reached by email at email@example.com or by phone at 217-351-5369.