A lawsuit charging discrimination, harassment and retaliation has been filed against a Huntington Circuit Court Judge who was a central figure in an ABC21 Digging Deeper series of reports earlier this year.
The lawsuit filed on Tuesday accuses Judge Thomas Hakes of misconduct directed toward the plaintiff, Chief Probation Officer Heather Malone.
The filing in Huntington Superior Court includes copies of social media messages allegedly sent to Malone by the judge. Many of them are time stamped well after hours.
Some invite Malone over for a glass of wine or include an offer to buy the court officer another alcoholic beverage.
In an email said to have come from the judge, the author writes that he cried over the loss of Malone as a friend, and that "I don’t want to loose (sic) your friendship. Even that word may not be the one I want."
Malone alleges in her lawsuit that the messages continued after she asked for Hakes to stop.
According to the documents, Hakes also messaged Malone regarding a book he was reading — a novel about a professional man unhappy with his wife, who ran away and fell in love with another woman. The message notes that the character of the new love interest reminded Hakes of Malone.
Malone alleges that she received "numerous photos" of Hakes that were taken while he was on vacation or otherwise not at work. One photo submitted as evidence in the case shows Hakes leaning against a boat rail with the message, "come on, admit it. You miss me."
And the suit alleges that Hakes would drive by Malone’s home and would wait for her to arrive at the courthouse parking lot so he could accompany her inside.
Malone’s suit claims that the judge retaliated against his subordinate by recommending she be denied a pay raise and telling others to circumvent Malone at the courthouse, creating a "hostile and oppressive" workplace. The filing suggests retaliatory actions took place when Hakes learned that Malone had begun dating someone.
Malone isn’t the first to level allegations against Hakes. Another Huntington County judge filed a complaint last year, raising concerns that Hakes acted inappropriately toward a female court employee. That employee is now the judge in Superior Court, where Malone’s lawsuit was filed.
For that and other reasons, it is likely a motion will be filed to move the case. ABC21 has not been able to determine the outcome of any investigation related to that 2016 complaint.
Hakes was not at the courthouse on Wednesday and could not be reached for a response. The attorney who filed the case on behalf of Malone declined an ABC21 request for comment.
Last spring, Hakes sentenced Dr. John Mathew to house arrest after the doctor admitted to felony sex crimes in a plea arrangement that dismissed more serious rape charges. Protesters later gathered at the courthouse to express concern about what they considered a light sentence.
The victim in the Mathew case was an employee at the doctor’s clinic.
Separately, another coworker of Mathew filed a lawsuit against the doctor claiming he groped and otherwise harassed her.
The Hakes criminal case was heard by Judge Hakes in a period of time overlapping his correspondence with Malone.
ABC21 challenged a court order prohibiting the station from broadcasting a court audio recording of the sentencing hearing. On Oct. 31, the Indiana Court of Appeals upheld Hakes’ order barring that broadcast.
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that judges shall receive immunity from money damages lawsuits that involve acts within their purview on the bench. Judges do not receive such protection for acts outside their judicial function. That may include how they interact with coworkers at the courthouse.
Still, lawsuits against judges have a limited record of success.