St. Joe probate judge facing discipline charges
St. Joseph Probate Judge Jason A. Cichowicz has been charged with seven counts of misconduct, including an allegation that he improperly leveraged his position as the trustee for a foundation to fund improvements to his court.
The charges against Cichowicz relate to his time as both a practicing attorney and a judge. He was admitted to the Indiana bar in May 2006 and became a judge in January 2019.
The first two charges against Cichowicz relate to alleged conduct from 2013 to 2018, when he was still practicing. The JQC alleges in the filing that Cichowicz violated the Indiana Rules of Professional Conduct during that time via a conflict of interest in his representation of Levering Russell Cartwright.
According to the disciplinary complaint, “while representing Cartwright, Cichowicz had a conflict of interest when he mixed his role as attorney for Cartwright with his roles as power of attorney for Cartwright and later beneficiary of Cartwright’s various trusts and bank accounts. During his representation of Cartwright, Respondent also engaged in an improper business transaction with Cartwright by lending money to Cartwright and receiving an interest in Cartwright’s real estate.”
The other five counts relate to Cichowicz’s conduct after he became a judge of the St. Joseph County Probate Court.
According to the JQC, the judge allegedly “improperly continued his fiduciary relationships with Cartwright by remaining his power of attorney” and “utilize(ed) his role as the sole trustee of the Cartwright Foundation to donate funds to the St. Joseph Probate Court and Juvenile Justice Center for renovation improvements in such a manner that the public would not be able to determine the source of funds and his familial relationship to businesses/owners who provided goods and services for the renovations and improvements.”
Finally, the commission alleges Cichowicz “failed to accurately report and/or failed to report required information on his Statements of Economic Interest.”
Cichowicz can file an answer to the charges within 20 days but is not required to do so. The Indiana Supreme Court has the final say on whether misconduct occurred and discipline is appropriate.
Indiana Lawyer reached out to Cichowicz’s attorney, Donald Lundberg, for comment and received a statement:
“Judge Jason Cichowicz successfully and legally obtained private funds to improve his court at no cost to the taxpayer and at no personal benefit to himself,” the statement said. “The Commission’s own statement of charges correctly asserts that Judge Cichowicz’s interest was in making improvements that would be beneficial to the important work of the St. Joseph Probate Court and the families and children it serves. The Judge looks forward to presenting his side of the case to a panel of three independent judges who will decide whether the Commission’s or his and his lawyers’ interpretation of the Code of Judicial Conduct is correct.”
IL also reached out to Cartwright’s attorney, Michael Misch, for comment.
“Mr. Cartwright was shocked to learn that this investigation was taking place and that charges were being considered, as the majority of the issues presented involve Mr. Cartwright who has never complained about his relationship with then Attorney Cichowicz or now Judge Cichowicz,” Misch said. “Mr. Cartwright has always held Judge Cichowicz in the highest regard and regards him as a family member.
“Mr. Cartwright has always maintained that all actions taken by Cichowicz on behalf of Mr. Cartwright were of his own choosing and also in the best interest of our community and the children and families served by the JJC,” Misch continued. “It says a lot that Mr. Cartwright is the alleged victim in this case, yet none of the accusers have once sat down with him or asked his opinion. He has repeatedly rejected the notion that Judge Cichowicz has done anything wrong and stands by him 100%.”
Cichowicz has no disciplinary history, according to the Indiana Rolle of Attorneys.