Saturday, April 5, 2014

Laura Zeman Could Learn A Few Lessons in Manners From Judge David Certo

What makes a successful judge? 

Here is contrast between two Republican judges: David Certo, a Community Court judge in Marion County and former Judge Laura Zeman of Tippecanoe County. 

As a prosecutor it has been Laura Zeman's job to be tough on suspected criminals.  Unfortunately Zeman carried that role with her to Superior Court over a decade ago, and soon became the first incumbent judge in recent history to be thrown out of office by voters because of it. 

Some say it was because she came with the mindset that defendants were guilty until proven innocent.  Many have complained that they were treated rudely by the harsh judge. 

Whether it was scolding an indigent and mentally-challenged defendant for referring to her as "Laura," or parading a large group of Purdue students who were arrested for underage drinking through her courtroom after notifying the local television news station that she would be doing so, Zeman consistently demonstrated a lack of judgment and compassion.

Russ Pulliam, Associate Editor of The Star, wrote an excellent article on a much different type of judge from Marion County.

David Certo, a Community Court judge, has a much different approach and efficient way to fight crime, writes Pulliam.

Judge David Certo talks to Russ Pulliam
"David Certo doesn't fit the stereotype of a no-nonsense conservative judge.  He talks about dignity and respect for the offenders who come before him for sentencing.  He has a food and clothing pantry for hungry and homeless lawbreakers.  And he and his small staff try to help offenders find jobs."

Can you imagine what types of changes could be made in Tippecanoe County with that type of attitude coming from a bench in Tippecanoe County?  Some people just need a hand up and not another smack down. 

Pulliam's article continues, “If I can take people out of the system and get them on the straight path, we’ve allocated our resources better,” Certo said in an interview between court sessions. “As a conservative I want to do what works. If treating people like neighbors works, let’s do more of that.”

In court he addresses offenders with a mix of threats of jail sentences and polite inquiries about their health. “Take care of yourself and stay out of trouble,” he concludes in sending a man charged with public intoxication to alcohol abuse treatment and two days on a community cleanup crew. “Let us know if we can help you in any way. We have food, we have clothing. We have a variety of ways we can help."

In about 10 percent of cases, the judge sends a person to jail. He prefers to see them motivated to get a job and help for alcohol abuse, sometimes through an assignment to the Salvation Army’s Harbor Light Center.

Other offenders are sentenced to work crews for neighborhood cleanups. Some also appear before a neighborhood impact panel, to hear from community leaders about how trespass or public drunkenness looks to crime victims.

“We’re trying to get people’s attention, not by hitting them over the head,” the judge said. “If you get arrested, and the end result is that you get a job, then everybody wins.”

The Golden Rule is simple.  Treat others the way you would like to be treated, which is why many in this community will not be part of an effort to send Laura Zeman back into the courtroom.  We believe Judge Donat comes much closer to the Certo-style judge than Zeman could ever hope to.

Laura Zeman is no David Certo.

Just ask yourself one question.  If you were a defendant, which judge would you prefer to stand before?

You can access Pulliam's story at this link.


  1. Laura Zeman and Gregg Donat were in the same room today. There must have been some sort of Republican Party meeting going on in the banquet room at MCL in West Lafayette this morning and it ended around 12:00 noon.

    I would definitely NOT want Laura Zeman to be the judge if I were accused of a crime. Police and prosecutors have all sorts of "catch-all" and trumped-up charges that they can bring against people whom they don't like, and there's no doubt in my mind that Laura would rule in favor of the police in such a situation.

    I have no problem if the woman wants to work as an attorney or prosecutor, but she has no business being on the bench.

    What frightens me even more is how she will rule in asset forfeiture cases. Under Indiana Code 34-24-1, police and prosecutors can take your house, car, retirement savings, cash, and any other property you own based on mere suspicion of a crime. You do not even have to be arrested, charged with, or convicted of a crime. If you don't believe me, go to the Tippecanoe County court records website and search for CIVIL cases where the State of Indiana is the plaintiff under all case codes with a "PL" (i.e. 79D04-1401-PL-00000). Many of the people whose property is being forfeited in these cases have no criminal case listed in the court records.

    You'll see many of these cases titled "State of Indiana, West Lafayette Police vs. One Hundred Twenty Five Dollars in US Currency" as an example. Law enforcement agencies can just stop people for traffic infractions and take money out of motorists' wallets, and it's perfectly legal under Indiana Code 34-24-1. If you resist the seizure, you'll be arrested and charged with a felony and have your car towed and the car itself possibly seized. This is happening all over Indiana and the rest of the USA.

  2. Thanks for the tip. This is the type of story that needs to be thoroughly investigated and reported on. We also need to lobby our legislators to repeal this unconstitutional legislation.

  3. This is an outrage. It is high time we start asking these elected officials (and non elected "agents" of the state like FBI) what in the world is going on here. I would have thought that an asset forfeiture might be rare. Sounds like it's not. What kind of madness is it, and how far has our values as a nation slipped if the judges and prosecutor and even defense attorneys are able to sit in a courtroom where a police agency is suing "one hundred and twenty five dollars in US currency". One inanimate object suing another? What next, cars suing potholes? It sounds all too silly if it weren't so serious. When the government has such a low regard for private property I'm not sure we realize how close to the end we are.

  4. In all fairness to Judge Donat (Superior Court Four - where many of the forfeiture cases are filed), he pretty much has to rule in favor of the state in most of these forfeiture cases, since judges are supposed to follow state law. If the defendant does not respond to the summons in a civil case or show up for the court hearing, usually the plaintiff (State of Indiana) will move for a default judgment and the state keeps the property. The state knows that most of the defendants cannot afford an attorney to fight the forfeiture action against them, and there is no right to a public defender in a forfeiture case, since it's a civil case rather than criminal case.

    I've been looking closely at many of these forfeiture cases already on the record, and I have seen many instances where the defendant did in fact show up for court, and Judge Donat ruled that there was no evidence linking the money to any criminal activity, and he ordered the police departments to return the money or property to the defendants. Also, in a few of these cases, the court records show the police failed to or unnecessarily delayed return of the property to the defendant even after being ordered to by the judge.

    I've been trying to obtain financial records from the Tippecanoe County auditor's office to see what these forfeited monies are being spent on, and I haven't had any luck obtaining the records. Is someone or several departments trying to hide something? Financial records from government units in Indiana have ALWAYS been public records.

    It's interesting to note that the forfeiture actions filed against the El Rodeo Mexican Restaurants were filed in Superior Court One rather than court four. Was someone judge-shopping? We may never know.

  5. Well, well, well...Now we know why police officers are hell bent on getting Zeman back in office. This scandal needs to be exposed. Sounds like a good job for the LCJ.

  6. Laura Zeman is why taxpayers had to foot the bill for a new wing at the jail. She sent so many "offenders" there that they had to expand. We should ask the commissioners to buy a plaque and name it the Laura Zeman Wing. When will Laura get the message that voters don't want her?!! We threw her out of office once. She tried to get appointed to Superior Court 3 and was rejected. She can't get along in the Tippecanoe County Prosecutor's Office so now works part-time in Clinton County. She just does not fit in here.

  7. "We welcome comments, but please be patient as you wait for them to appear. We have chosen to preview comments prior to publication, because we want to eliminate trolls who launch personal attacks."

    It seems like this only applies if the moderator agrees with the target of the personal attack. It is also worth noting that the majority of articles on this blog are full of personal attacks.

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  9. There is a huge difference between a personal attack on a private citizen and criticism of a public official and/or candidate. When someone puts his or her name into the political ring they are subject to criticism. Past actions, personal demeanor, and character are fair game. An example of a personal attack would be, "I think you are a moron." Laura Zeman has earned a reputation for being rude and mean. That is fair game because she is running for public office. We have printed most comments. If you don't see your comment then there is good reason for it.

  10. Appeals on Wheels: Oral arguments at Ivy Tech in Lafayette on Tuesday, April 8, 2013 regarding allegations, again, of prosecutorial misconduct by Laura Zeman in a child molest case. Summary of the argument from the Court of Appeals: "[Defendant] Robey contends that his habitual offender admission lacked a sufficient factual basis; that the trial court erred in denying his motion to correct error on the basis of alleged juror misconduct; that he was denied a fair trial by the admission of what he alleges was impermissible vouching testimony; and that the prosecutor committed misconduct by improperly vouching for a witness."

    1. This appeal has been decided, and the convictions all affirmed. The Appellate Court ruled that the Robey "failed to establish error" in regard to prosecutorial misconduct related to impermissible vouching. It would have been nice to have had yet another reprimand for Prosecutorial Misconduct, possibly causing disbarment, thereby disqualifying Mrs. Zeman for a judgeship, but that didn't happen here. Fortunately, this monster has to continue to serve his 110 year sentence.

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