On Friday, August 4, 2023, the Indiana Commission on Judicial Qualifications, along with Hon. Jason A. Cichowicz, Judge of St. Joseph Probate Court, submitted a statement of circumstances and conditional agreement for discipline before the Supreme Court of Indiana. This action was taken due to Hon. Cichowicz’s engagement in extrajudicial activities that could reasonably be perceived as undermining the judge’s independence, integrity, or impartiality.

The case is entitled “In the Matter of Jason A. Cichowicz,” with case no. 23S-JD-33.

The charges cited the Code of Judicial Conduct 1.2, 3.1, and 1.3.

In the statement of circumstances and conditional agreement for discipline, the financial history of Levering Russell Cartwright is outlined. Cartwright, a former client of Cichowicz had substantial assets and was the beneficiary of multiple trusts created by his parents. He practiced law in Illinois and had relationships with various legal professionals, including Cichowicz. During his lifetime, Cartwright held positions as trustee and co-trustee of various trusts and charitable organizations.

Cichowicz, who eventually became a Judge of the St. Joseph Probate Court, continued to be involved in Cartwright’s financial affairs even after taking office. This included facilitating the donation of funds from the Cartwright Foundation to support projects related to the juvenile justice center and refurbishing breakrooms. The statement outlines specific instances of financial transactions, charitable donations, and renovations in which Cichowicz was involved, leading to alleged violations of the Code of Judicial Conduct related to maintaining impartiality, extrajudicial activities, and financial dealings.

The statement of circumstances and conditional agreement for discipline states:

“At the time Respondent began representing him, Cartwright had substantial financial assets and substantial annual income as the beneficiary of family trusts, and in addition had other sources of income, including the income from the 1993-2 Trust. Shortly after beginning representation of Cartwright, Respondent obtained physical custody of Cartwright’s personal checking account checkbook and completed checks to be signed by Cartwright to pay Cartwright’s bills or other disbursements at Cartwright’s request and on Cartwright’s behalf Respondent retained the checkbook at Cartwright’s request so that Respondent could assist Cartwright with his banking activities.”

The statement of circumstances and conditional agreement for discipline continues:

“By directing that funds from the Cartwright Foundation (in which Respondent served as sole trustee) be donated anonymously in 2019 and 2020 for the purpose of renovating the St. Joseph Probate Court and/or the St. Joseph Juvenile Justice Center and otherwise obscuring the source of funding, Respondent violated Rules 1.2 and 3.1(C) of the Code of Judicial Conduct, which prohibits a judge from engaging in extrajudicial activities that would appear to a reasonable person to undermine the judge’s independence, integrity, or impartiality, and committed willful misconduct unrelated to the office.”

The statement of circumstances and conditional agreement for discipline further states:

“By directing that funds received from the Friends of the JJC (after an anonymous donation from the Cartwright Foundation) be used for breakroom construction services by a business owned and/or operated by Kenneth Cichowicz, a family member of Respondent, to renovate the St. Joseph Probate Court and St. Joseph Juvenile Justice Center, Respondent violated Rules 1.2 and 1.3 of the Code of Judicial Conduct, which prohibits a judge from abusing the prestige of judicial office to advance the private interests of another.”

“By directing that funds received from the Friends of the JJC (after an anonymous donation from the Cartwright Foundation) be used to purchase automobiles for the St. Joseph CASA Program from a business owned by Kenneth Cichowicz, a family member of Respondent, Respondent violated Rules 1.2 and 1.3 of the Code of Judicial Conduct.”

It was stated that Judge Cichowicz has cooperated with the commission throughout the investigation, accepted responsibility for his conduct, and acknowledged that, while he relied on advice from personal counsel prior to continuing to serve as Cartwright’s attorney-in-fact after assuming judicial office, the better course of action would have been to contact and seek guidance from counsel for the Commission on Judicial Qualifications, and has agreed to resign as power of attorney for Cartwright as soon as a suitable substitute attorney-in-fact can be put in place.

The statement of circumstances and conditional agreement for discipline additionally notes:

“The parties agree that the appropriate sanction is that the Respondent receive a day’s suspension without pay and an assessment of costs for the conduct described above (Counts 3, 4, 5, and 6). Upon the Court’s acceptance of this agreement, the Commission will move to dismiss Counts I, 2, and 7. WHEREFORE, the parties, with the Chief Justice not participating, respectfully ask the Court to adopt their stipulated to accept the agreed sanction and to impose upon Respondent sanction of a 45-day suspension pay and the cost of this proceeding.”

Judge Cichowicz presides over the St. Joseph Probate Court, which is located at 1000 S Michigan St, South Bend, IN 46601, and can be reached at +1 574-235-5378.

A copy of the original filing can be found here.