By Lindsay Doty
The Indiana Supreme Court has suspended Hendricks Superior Court Judge Robert W. Freese for 45 days without pay for judicial misconduct in a real estate case he presided over that ended in embezzlement.
In the unanimous decision, the justices with the state’s highest court found that Judge Freese acted inappropriately when he appointed his friend, Stephen Scott, to oversee a family trust.
According to the order, all justices found Freese “engaged in judicial misconduct by appointing an unqualified friend as trustee of a trust and personal representative of a related estate, failing to disclose the friendship or a financial relationship with the friend, and failing to act promptly when faced with mounting evidence of the friend’s mismanagement and embezzlement of the funds entrusted to him.”
Scott embezzled around $250,000 from the trust. Scott pleaded guilty in 2017 to federal embezzlement charges but has not repaid the money.
According to the facts in the Indiana Supreme Court ruling, Freese has known Scott since 1990 and considered him one of his “closest friends.”
In 2004, Freese lent him $122,400 to buy a house because Scott had bad credit. Shortly after, Judge Freese appointed Scott as trustee over the $2.3 million Herbert Hochreiter Living Trust, but did not disclose their financial past.
During the time Scott oversaw the trust, Freese reported he had to repay missing funds and granted Scott an extension when one of the beneficiaries was concerned that gold bars might be missing. According to information in the ruling, Freese never referred his findings to the local prosecutor or the U.S Attorney’s office.
Freese has been suspended for 45 days without pay starting July 8 and must pay $1,460 in court costs. He’ll be reinstated Aug. 22.
The Indiana Supreme Court said Freese has an otherwise distinguished judicial career and was cooperative with this investigation and remorseful.
The court agreed his misconduct was not “deliberate or willful and brought him no financial benefit or personal gain,” according to the opinion.
Follow this link to read the entire Indiana Supreme Court opinion: https://www.in.gov/judiciary/opinions/pdf/06041901per.pdf.