Judge is accused of telling custody litigant to 'zip it,' noting '10th freaking day of this hearing'

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An Indiana judge is facing an ethics complaint contending that he made undignified comments in a custody case when he told the father to “zip it” and “shut up” and declared: “This is just bulls- - -.”

Judge Jeffrey F. Meade of the Gibson Circuit Court in Gibson County, Indiana, is accused in a Dec. 1 misconduct complaint filed by the Indiana Commission on Judicial Qualifications, according to a press release.

Meade is also accused of failing to perform the duties of his office fairly and impartially when he had an off-the-record, unrecorded hearing in a case involving children in need of supervision.

The undignified comments allegations stem from comments that Meade allegedly made at hearings in the custody and parenting-time case in November 2019 and May 2021. According to the complaint, Meade referred to the father as “Bud,” “Buddy,” “Bro” and “Man,” and he made these statements to the father:

    • The father should “be quiet,” “zip it,” “shut [his] mouth,” and “shut up.”

    • Said: “You don’t have the child being passed off like a football.”

    • Said: “This is just bulls- - -. I’m sorry, I’m a farm boy. I was raised—I’m older than you. I was scooping hog s- - - long before you, man. I’m going to tell you what, this is crap. It stinks. This kind of behavior stinks. OK?”

    • Said: “Now, I’m not playing with this. OK? This is the 10th freaking day of this hearing. OK? And again, I’m not prejudging nothing. I’m going to hear this case out, and we’ll let the attorneys do their findings. OK? But I’m going to tell you what, you best be calling Daddy up to get some money coming, I’m telling you that right now because you have intentionally interfered with this woman’s parenting time. OK? And it’s going to cost you a bundle. OK?”

    • Said: “This is one of the most egregious, OK, egregious interference of parenting time that I’ve ever seen. OK? You do not follow my order again you bring your toothbrush, you’re going to be over there for days and weeks and months. Is this crystal for you, man?”

Meade is also accused of making statements about his divorce and custody proceedings and comparing his situation with that of the litigants in the case during hearings in November 2019 and December 2020.

Meade had the off-the-record hearing in a case involving three children in need of supervision in May 2020. He had the hearing in chambers because lawyers for the foster parents were unavailable for an in-person hearing, and Meade’s courtroom wasn’t equipped to handle a conference call.

The paternal grandmother filed a motion to intervene two months before the May 2020 hearing and sought third-party custody. Two days before the hearing, the foster parents filed a petition to adopt the children, who had lived with them for 18 months while the proceedings were pending.

There was no audio recording or transcript of the hearing, which happened in Meade’s chambers. The paternal grandmother wasn’t included, even though she was in the hallway outside Meade’s courtroom. Also not present was a court-appointed special advocate (known as a CASA) who was appointed for the children. The CASA executive director was present, however.

Meade ruled on written motions during the hearing, the misconduct complaint says. He also ruled on oral motions on substantive issues at the hearing that weren’t included in the notice describing the purpose of the hearing, the complaint says. There was no witness testimony.

Meade didn’t allow counsel for the parents to appear in person and present evidence on the oral motions before he ruled on them, according to the complaint. After the hearing, Meade asked the mother’s counsel to prepare a minute entry for the hearing, without giving that opportunity to other lawyers, the complaint alleges.

In the paternity hearing, the misconduct complaint alleges that Meade violated rules that require judges to act in a way that promotes public confidence in the judiciary and that requires judges to be patient, dignified and courteous to lawyers and litigants.

In the off-the-record hearing, the misconduct complaint says, Meade violated rules requiring judges to perform their duties fairly and impartially, that require judges to perform their duties competently, that require judges to comply with the law, that require judges to give people a right to be heard, that bar judges from initiating ex parte communications, and that bar conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice.

A person who answered the phone in Meade’s chambers said neither the judge nor the office would be making a comment. The person transferred the ABA Journal to the court reporter, who also said Meade had no comment.

Meade’s lawyer, James Bell, did not immediately respond to an ABA Journal email.

Publications that covered the allegations include the Indiana Lawyer, the Evansville Courier & Press and WBIW.

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