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Muncie judge faces state disciplinary charges

December 11, 2014

The state commission that oversees judicial conduct has filed 13 disciplinary charges against a Muncie City Court judge, including abuse of judicial power, repeated violations of statutes and court rules, and injudicious public conduct.

The Indiana Commission on Judicial Qualifications filed the charges Thursday against Judge Dianna Bennington, who has been a judge since 2012. She has 20 days to file a response. A message seeking comment was left Thursday for Bennington by The Associated Press.

The accusations against Bennington include abusing judicial power by sentencing a defendant to jail without any indication of when he would be released and conducting a sentencing hearing without a prosecutor present. She also is accused of repeatedly violating statutes and court rules, such as not requiring guilty pleas and sentences to be recorded in misdemeanor cases.

The commission also alleges injudicious public conduct. Angela Smith of Muncie filed a police report on Sept. 22 accusing Bennington of intimidation. Smith is the longtime girlfriend of Delaware County Chief Deputy Sheriff Jason Walker, who is the father of Bennington's 18-month-old twins. Smith said Bennington angrily confronted her outside Walker's home on Sept. 21.

The charges filed Thursday allege that Bennington used profanity and referred to Smith with a "racial slur." The commission says the comments were recorded by Walker.

Bennington previously sought an emergency protective order against Smith, saying Smith and another woman conspired to follow and harass her. Bennington said she contacted the superintendent of the Indiana State Police to relay her concerns for her family's safety. Another judge denied the request for the emergency protective order at a Sept. 18 hearing.

The commission also accused Bennington of failing to cooperate with its investigation by repeatedly delaying her responses to the commission.

The Indiana Supreme Court can appoint three masters to conduct a public hearing or allow the commission and Bennington to submit a settlement agreement. Any agreement or decision by the masters must be approved by the Indiana Supreme Court.

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