On Friday, May 17, 2024, the Indiana Capital Chronicle reported that former Benton County Circuit Court Judge Rex Kepner was publicly admonished by the state’s Commission on Judicial Qualifications for actions that occurred while he was still serving as a judge four years ago.

The commission found that in October 2020, Kepner inappropriately loaned $1,000 in cash to a defendant, McKenzie Griffith, who was behind on payments for a money judgment in a small claims case. Griffith had been ordered by Kepner to pay $2,535 to the plaintiff, Steve Gick, but had fallen behind on monthly $100 payments with 8% interest. At a hearing over a default judgment, after learning how much Griffith still owed, Kepner stepped away from the bench and provided the money to her through his court reporter, to be used to resolve the case.

While Kepner’s intentions were to help someone in his community struggling financially, the commission said his actions violated his duty of remaining impartial as a neutral arbiter. By making the direct loan, it created an appearance of impropriety that undermined public confidence in his independence and integrity on the bench. Kepner acknowledged that his conduct broke Rule 1.2 of Indiana’s judicial code, requiring judges to avoid the appearance of impropriety.

The commission, which investigates judicial misconduct and enforces conduct standards, said a public admonishment was warranted in this case rather than formal disciplinary charges because Kepner cooperated fully, admitted his violation, and apologized. As a public reprimand, the admonishment will remain part of Kepner’s record for any future issues. He is no longer a sitting judge, having retired in 2020 before becoming the Benton County prosecutor in 2022.

The incident came to the commission’s attention four years after it occurred. It serves as a cautionary reminder for all judges to maintain impartiality and not allow personal feelings of compassion to influence their role in legal proceedings, according to the commission’s statement.

 

 

Source: Indiana Capital Chronicle