St. Joseph County Probate Judge will serve 45-day suspension over ethics violations
St. Joseph County’s Probate Court Judge will be suspended for 45 days for funneling money from a client’s trust fund to the probate court without disclosing it.
Judge Jason Cichowicz and agreed to the suspension which will start on Sept. 5. Cichowicz has also been ordered to pay nearly $4,000 in fines.
The charges against Cichowicz stem from his relationship with a man named Russell Cartwright. Cichowicz was originally Cartwright’s lawyer but he developed a close friendship with Cartwright and eventually came to hold Cartwright’s power of attorney and was a co-trustee over a multi-million dollar trust fund Cartwright had.
When Cichowicz was elected probate county judge in 2019, he took over $160,000 from Cartwright’s trust to pay for a new courtroom and renovated break rooms at the JJC in addition to three cars to be used by court staff.
The payments presented possible ethics violations according to the state commission because Cichowicz did not disclose the source of the funding to any members in county government. Instead, he took money from Cartwright's trust and transferred it to the law firm of Anderson, Agostino and Keller. The firm then gave the money to the nonprofit Friends of the JJC. If the money were given directly to the Friends of the JJC, the nonprofit would be required to disclose it.
The state commission found the transfer could "undermine the judge's independent, integrity, or impartiality."
In addition. the companies which did the construction to the break rooms and provided the cars were owned by Cichowicz’s father, which the state said led to Cichowicz using the prestige of his office to advance the interests of another.
A message left for Cichowicz was not returned Wednesday, but in a statement filed in court, Cichowicz pushed back at the charges saying that he broke no laws and pointed out that Indiana code allows for judges to serve as trustees of family members, which he believes Cartwright to be.
He also said the money was used for court business and not for personal gain and added that his father's companies were paid market rate for the work done. As a condition of the agreed discipline, Cichowicz is also giving up his power of attorney for Cartwright.