News and Tribune

Editorials

April 30, 2014

OUR OPINION: Jacobi’s time on the bench should end

— It is the editorial position of this newspaper that as an organization, we will not endorse candidates for elected office. That’s not changing in this election cycle.

Though we don’t endorse candidates, we do feel it necessary to inform readers when we believe a candidate who has a legitimate shot of being elected — or re-elected — is not fit to hold office.

That’s the case with Judge Jerry Jacobi. The chance that he’ll win the Democratic Party primary in May, judging by the sheer volume of signs he’s managed to convince his supporters to pepper Clark County with, is real. Those signs are as perplexing as they are maddening to those familiar with the situation in Clark County’s drug court, a program that Jacobi oversaw.

Jacobi has been stripped of that responsibility by the Indiana Judicial Center. It’s the first time in the 11-year history of the IJC that a problem-solving court has been suspended.

Jacobi would prefer that you blame former Drug Court Director Susan Knoebel and bailiff Jeremy Snelling for the court’s problems.

But it was Jacobi who sat on the bench during drug court proceedings while defendants were denied their right to counsel. It was Jacobi who received — and apparently, ignored — weekly reports from the sheriff’s department that listed the inmates his courts were responsible for in the Michael L. Becher Adult Correctional Complex. It was Jacobi who, after ordering defendants be held “until further order of the court,” failed to give the orders that would have prevented drug court participants from staying in the jail far longer than they should have.

It wasn’t just Clark County residents that reacted with outrage when they learned that short sanctions had become long jail stays for drug court participants. It was readers and viewers of national news outlets like Fox News, the New York Daily News and the Orlando Sentinel.

In March, Marion County Superior Court Judge Kimberly Brown became the third judge in the state’s history to be banned from the bench. The allegations that led to her removal included unprofessional treatment of attorneys in her court, mismanagement and dereliction of duty. In the opinion issued by the Indiana Supreme Court that pried the gavel from Brown’s hand, she was reprimanded for not releasing 10 defendants from jail on time.

The total number of days served among the 10? Sixty-two.

Destiny Hoffman alone spent 154 days behind bars after being sanctioned for 48 hours by Jacobi. And that’s just one case. At last count, there are 16 plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit filed against Jacobi, Knoebel, Snelling and other players in the Clark County criminal justice system. The total number of constitutionally questionable days of incarceration alleged in the complaint: 885.  

If Jacobi fails to win another term as Circuit Court No. 2 judge, it will be the second time in as many re-election bids that he’ll have left office under a cloud. The misuse of court funds by former chief of staff Jerry Lemmons likely contributed to Jacobi’s loss to Vicki Carmichael in 2006 in his bid to retain the bench in Superior Court No. 1, now Circuit Court No. 4.

Jacobi’s current run as judge is likely going to be far more costly to taxpayers than his first. If the drug court defendants that overstayed the length of their sanctions win civil cases against the county, the cost could be millions.

And out of whose pockets do you think that money will come? Hint: Not Jacobi’s, save for his own property taxes.

Jacobi’s time on the bench should end with this election cycle.

— The News and Tribune editorial board is comprised of Publisher Bill Hanson, Editor Shea Van Hoy, Assistant Editor Chris Morris and Assistant Editor Jason Thomas. Responses can be sent to shea.vanhoy@newsandtribune.com

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