Ex-judge accused of sex-based harassment tentatively settles

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Olivia Covington fro www.theindianalawyer.com

A former Huntington County judge has reached a tentative settlement with his accuser in a sex-based harassment case brought by a county probation officer who alleged the judge engaged in a “campaign of sex-based harassment, discrimination, and retaliation” that “created a hostile and oppressive workplace environment.”

A notice of tentative settlement was filed last week in the Indiana Northern District Court in the case of Heather Malone v. Judge Thomas Hakes, 1:17-cv-505. Chief probation officer Heather Malone sued Huntington Circuit Judge Thomas Hakes last December, alleging Hakes sent her suggestive emails and social media messages even after she asked him to stop.

Court exhibits show a litany of Facebook messages and emails sent from Hakes to Malone, some of which she responded to and others she ignored. The messages discussed wide-ranging personal matters, including buying and drinking alcohol and watching ESPN. Hakes also wrote on multiple occasions that he would stop emailing Malone after hours and sending her Facebook messages, but he failed to follow through on those promises.

Malone alleged Hakes retaliated by denying her a raise and telling courthouse employees to avoid her, among other things.

“Over time, and including 2016 and 2017, Judge Hakes began to behave in an obsessive and unwelcome manner toward Ms. Malone, on the basis of her sex,” the complaint says. “… In essence, Judge Hakes constantly pressured Ms. Malone for a relationship that she did not wish to have.”

The notice of tentative settlement, filed Oct. 30, notes the settlement will not become official until it is approved by the Indiana governor and attorney general. A letter submitted from mediator C. Erik Chickedantz says the settlement was reached during a mediation session on Oct. 26, when both parties and their attorneys attended “and participated in good faith.” Chickedantz wrote that he believed a fair resolution was reached.

An order entered Oct. 31 by Magistrate Judge Paul R. Cherry requires the parties to file dismissal papers within 45 days.

Hakes had previously sought to stay discovery in the case against him, arguing it would likely be dismissed based on absolute and/or qualified immunity. But Cherry denied that motion, marking the second time he ruled against the former judge. Cherry also denied Hakes’ motion to seal exhibits, rejecting his argument that the exhibits contained “communications relating to court business.”

Hakes retired from the Huntington Circuit Court on Dec. 31, and Gov. Eric Holcomb appointed Huntington County deputy prosecutor Jamie M. Groves to fill the vacancy.

During the case proceedings, Hakes, who was sued in his individual capacity, was represented by the Indiana Attorney General’s Office, while Malone retained private counsel.

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