Indiana Supreme Court considers removing local judge from wrongful conviction cases

NOW: Indiana Supreme Court considers removing local judge from wrongful conviction cases

INDIANAPOLIS - The Indiana Supreme Court is now considering whether to remove a local judge from a case involving allegations of systemic misconduct inside the Elkhart Police Department.

Pink Robinson, Iris Seabolt, and Leon Tyson are all petitioning to overturn their three separate violent felony convictions that were investigated by the Elkhart Police Department. Right now, Elkhart County Judge Teresa Cataldo is set to preside over their cases despite requests for Cataldo to recuse herself.

The Indiana Supreme Court heard oral arguments, Thursday, debating whether statements Judge Cataldo has made in the past, and her personal relationships, could give the appearance of bias.

The legal team representing the three petitioners also represented Andrew Royer. His murder conviction was overturned in 2020, following findings of misconduct by investigators. The court determined an Elkhart police officer threatened a witness to gain a false testimony and took advantage of Royer's mental disability to coerce a false confession.

Royer has since been released and reached a nearly $12 million settlement with the City of Elkhart.

But when he was first fighting for his freedom, Royer's attorney Elliot Slosar claimed there was a proven "epidemic" of misconduct inside the Elkhart Police Department.

Judge Teresa Cataldo, overseeing Royer's case at the time, called that allegation "defamatory".

The legal team representing Robinson, Seabolt, and Tyson argues the "defamatory" remark creates the perception Judge Cataldo could be biased and has prematurely dismissed allegations of systemic misconduct inside the department.

“Every stage of the case from beginning to end is going to be infected by this problem and it’s going to linger," attorney for the petitioners Robert Hochman said in oral arguments.

The State claims the judge’s comments are being misrepresented.

“[Judge Cataldo] was simply addressing the fact that [Royer's attorney] was saying that [systemic misconduct] had been proven, when they in fact had not," State attorney Kelly Loy said.

Petitioners are also pointing to Judge Cataldo’s personal relationship with Elkhart County Prosecutor Vicki Becker, and her previous marriage to an ex-EPD reserve officer, as concerns.

“There is at least the prospect that people close to her will be called in this case," Hochman said. "She's going to have to make judgements about allowing discovery is certain avenues that might be sensitive for her.”

The Indiana Supreme Court has not yet decided whether to remove Cataldo from the case.

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