FOR THE RESPONDENT FOR THE INDIANA SUPREME COURT
James H. Voyles
Donald R. Lundberg, Executive Secretary
Suite 700 David B. Hughes, Staff Attorney
One Virginia Avenue 115 West Washington Street, Suite 1060
Indianapolis, IN 46204 Indianapolis, IN 46204
SUPREME COURT OF INDIANA
IN THE MATTER OF )
) Case No. 45S00-9309-DI-987
DARLENE W. MEARS )
February 18, 2000
While serving as a judge of the Lake Superior Court, Juvenile Division, the
respondent, Darlene W. Mears, improperly used members of her staff to perform personal
tasks for her at times when they were being paid by the county.
Today we approve a Conditional Agreement for Discipline, pursuant to Ind.Admission and
Discipline Rule 23, Section 11, between the respondent and the Indiana Supreme Court
Disciplinary Commission, which will result in respondents suspension from the practice of law
for ninety (90) days for this professional misconduct..
The facts presented by the Commission and the respondent are that the respondent
was a judge of the Lake Superior Court, Juvenile Division, from April 1978
through April 1992. In that capacity, she supervised employees of the Lake
County Superior Court, Juvenile Division, and the Lake County Juvenile Detention Center.
Employees of both entities, at the request of the respondent, performed personal tasks
for the respondent during their regular work hours or during periods for which
they were earning compensatory time.
These tasks included telephoning stores for the respondent to determine the availability of
sale items; ordering items from catalogs for the respondent; typing annual Christmas letters
to the respondents family; filling the respondents car with gas; picking up the
respondents laundry and groceries; preparing a moving list instructing the respondents movers where
items were to be placed in the respondents new home; preparing an insurance
claim list for the respondent; and preparing invitations for the birthday and baptism
of the respondents son. Although those activities prompted the filing of criminal
charges, including ghost employment, against the respondent, she was acquitted on all counts
The respondent and the Commission agree, and we find, that the respondent violated
Ind. Professional Conduct Rule 8.4(d) by engaging in conduct prejudicial to the administration
At the respondents direction, employees paid with public funds to process
cases adjudicated in the respondents court repeatedly spent part of their work day
performing tasks for the respondent with no apparent benefit to the judicial system.
The respondents routine use of her staff to run personal errands
lacking any substantial relationship to the respondents judicial responsibilities can only be
viewed as having impaired the operation of her court and diminished the public
perception of the judiciary constitutes conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice.
Having found professional misconduct, we must determine an appropriate sanction. In making
that assessment, we consider the nature of the misconduct, the respondents state of
mind underlying the misconduct, actual or potential injury flowing from the misconduct, the
duty of this Court to preserve the integrity of the profession, the risk
to the public in allowing the respondent to continue in practice, and any
mitigating or aggravating factors.
Matter of Lehman, 690 N.E.2d 696 (Ind. 1997).
The Commission and the respondent cite as mitigating factors that the respondent has
not practiced law since moving to California in 1995 after these charges were
filed in September 1993, and that she is remorseful for her misconduct.
They suggest a sanction of a ninety (90) day suspension from the practice
of law in Indiana without automatic reinstatement.
While recognizing that the respondent has had substantial time to reflect on her
misconduct and now appears to appreciate the impropriety of her actions, we note
that we have imposed harsher sanctions in other cases involving misuse of public
See, e.g., Matter of Brown, 703 N.E.2d 1041 (Ind. 1998) (three-year
suspension for conviction of ghost employment and for offensive and unwelcome sexual advances
to employees); Matter of Riddle, 700 N.E.2d 788 (Ind. 1998) (disbarment for ghost
employment); Matter of Hampton, 533 N.E.2d 122 (Ind. 1989) (respondent disbarred for ghost
employment and misappropriation of funds while serving as license branch manager).
While those cases involve more egregious misconduct than that admitted by the respondent,
one factor in those cases also is evident here -- a betrayal of
the public trust. Judges are provided staff to assist them in their
professional duties. Judges, often being their direct supervisors, are entrusted with the
management responsibilities of a small office operating as part of a larger system
of justice. The respondent violated that trust when she placed her personal
interests above her professional obligations by regularly requiring her staff to run personal
errands for her during working hours or while they were earning compensatory time.
Her actions rose to the level of professional misconduct because of the
repeated and personal nature of the tasks performed by the judicial staff and
the clear indication that such tasks were performed as a part of, but
not in furtherance of, their official duties. For instance, an employee received
compensatory time for driving the respondents son to a birthday party after normal
working hours. Routine shopping expeditions by court employees instituted at the respondents
direction and on her behalf can only be viewed as an abuse of
her authority and staff.
Although a more severe sanction could be justified, we approve the Conditional Agreement
between the Commission and the respondent calling for a ninety (90) day period
of suspension in light of our policy favoring agreed resolutions of disciplinary cases.
Accordingly, it is therefore ordered that the respondent is hereby suspended from the
practice of law for a period of ninety (90) days, beginning March 20,
2000, at the conclusion of which she may seek reinstatement to the practice
of law upon a showing that she has met the conditions of Admis.Disc.R.
The Clerk of this Court is directed to provide notice of
this order in accordance with Admis.Disc.R. 23(3)(d) and to provide the Clerk of
the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, the Clerk of
each of the United States District Courts in this state, and the Clerk
of each of the United States Bankruptcy Courts in this state with the
last known address of the respondent as reflected in the records of the
Costs of this proceeding are assessed against the respondent.
Shepard, C.J., Dickson, J., Boehm, J. and Rucker, J., concur.
Sullivan, J. dissents and would reject the conditional agreement on
grounds that it provides for an insufficient sanction.
As a preliminary matter, we note that the respondent was admitted to
practice law in this state on September 22, 1971. Accordingly, she is
subject to the disciplinary authority of this Court. This case has been
prosecuted by the Disciplinary Commission because the respondent no longer serves as a
Acquittal on criminal charges does not prohibit the filing of professional misconduct
charges arising from the same conduct. A disciplinary action is not a
criminal proceeding; the discipline of a member of the Bar of this State
is independently determined from any other proceeding, even if the alleged professional impropriety
involves criminal conduct. Matter of Hampton, 533 N.E.2d 122 (Ind. 1989); Matter
of McDaniel, 470 N.E.2d 1327 (Ind. 1984).
Prof.Cond.R. 8(d) provides that it is professional misconduct for a lawyer to
conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice.
We do not suggest that judicial staff are prohibited from performing any
task from which a judge derives some measure of personal benefit. For
example, there may be circumstances in which an employees performance of what otherwise
could be viewed as a personal task actually will assist the judge in
fulfilling the judges professional obligations. For instance, a judge who requests an
employee drive the judge to a speaking engagement does not commit professional misconduct
where the judge uses the time in the car to prepare for the
speech or to perform other judicial