Bailiff fired after refusing to quit unpaid job as Southport reserve officer

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.-- For ten years, Japhia Johnson was a bailiff in Marion Superior Court and learned a lot about the way judges handed out justice to those who came before the bench.

“I appreciate the way they listen to them, they take everything into consideration before they hand down whatever it is their decision is,” Johnson said. “They’re trying to be as fair as possible.”

Which is why Johnson said she can’t understand why she didn’t receive that same consideration when the Court Administrator told her last week she would have to choose between her job with the court or her recently acquired Southport reserve police badge.

“I choose not to resign from my position because with the research that I have done with the ethics code, with the code of conduct for judges, with our handbook that we have to sign, I have not violated any rules,” she said.

So Johnson said the administrator and court human resources director chose for her and she was fired.

“I cried and asked them, ‘What have I done wrong? Have I broken any statutes, any ethics codes or any rules or anything?’ and she said, ‘No, I’m sorry, Japhia. You’ve done nothing wrong. You can’t work both.’”

Johnson was fired for a potential conflict of interest that would arise if she were to bailiff in a criminal courtroom where a Southport police case was heard.

The Indiana Judicial Code reads, “A judge shall…promote public confidence in the independence, integrity and impartiality of the judiciary,” and, “Judges are encouraged to…promote public understanding of and confidence in the judicial system.”

FOX59 reached out to several attorneys who said state law is on the side of the Court Administrator, because the Judicial Code is written so broadly that it leaves it to the discretion of the Court or the judge to determine what conflict of interest is, even if no overt act has been committed, and take remedial steps.

Johnson is dismayed because the same official who handed her the pre-written termination letter congratulated her in an email last January after she was sworn in as a Southport reserve officer.

“It's been a dream all of my life,” said Johnson. “I wanted to wait until I raised all five of my children and now they’re all grown and I have 14 grandchildren.”

Up until last week, Johnson was making $16.80 per hour as a bailiff in superior court.

Now she answers phones for free three hours a week at the Southport Police Department.

The Court Administrator told FOX59 that it could not comment on personnel issues.

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