The judges’ plan, if there ever was one, was to enjoy a couple of drinks with their colleagues the night before a judicial conference in Indianapolis.
But by 3 the next morning, three Indiana circuit court judges, by way of a failed attempt to enter a strip club, were brawling with two strangers outside a White Castle in a drunken melee that ended with two of the judges shot and in critical condition in a hospital.
In the latest repercussion from that night, the judges, Andrew Adams, Bradley B. Jacobs and Sabrina R. Bell, were this week suspended from the bench by the Indiana Supreme Court for having “gravely undermined public trust in the dignity and decency of Indiana’s judiciary.”
According to police reports and the opinion issued by the Supreme Court, the drinking began early in the evening of April 30 for Jacobs, who had a scotch in the hotel lobby after checking into his room for the conference. At 7 p.m., Bell kicked things off with a couple of Seagram’s Escapes. Sometime after 10 p.m., Adams started drinking beers at an Irish pub. Around 12:30 a.m., all three were drinking with a court magistrate at another bar, throwing darts and playing cornhole.
About 3 a.m. they headed for the strip club, which had just closed for the night. The four officers of the court then walked to a nearby White Castle. The magistrate went inside while the three judges waited in the parking lot.
At that time, two men, Alfredo Vazquez and Brandon Kaiser, drove by in a blue SUV and “shouted something out the window,” according to the Supreme Court opinion. With no gavel to register her displeasure, Bell extended her middle finger instead.
The two men objected, and after they parked their vehicle in the White Castle parking lot, a “heated verbal altercation ensued” — with all parties yelling, using profanity and making “dismissive, mocking, or insolent gestures.”
The dispute quickly escalated into a brawl — at one point Adams kicked Kaiser in the back — but it appeared to have ended when Jacobs had Kaiser pinned down, with his fist raised to strike.
“This is over,” Jacobs said, according to the opinion. “Tell me this is over.”
If only it was: Kaiser pulled out a firearm, shooting Adams once and Jacobs twice, according to the police.
Adams needed two emergency operations, including to repair damage to his colon. Jacobs, who was shot twice in the chest, had two operations during a 14-day hospitalization.
Medical workers also recorded the men’s blood alcohol levels: 0.13 for Jacobs, and 0.157 for Adams. (The legal limit for drivers in Indiana is 0.08.) The report says Bell did not have her blood alcohol level tested, though she later said she had no memory of what would seem to have been a memorable encounter.
“I mean I fully acknowledge that I drink and get mouthy, and I’m fiery and I’m feisty,” Bell said in a recorded statement made at a police station after the brawl. “But if I would have ever thought for a second that they were gonna fight or that that guy had a gun on him, I would never, never. . . .”
The report does not indicate how Bell finished that thought, but it does detail the punishments adjudicated to the three justices.
Adams, a Democrat elected to the Clark County court in 2014, was charged with felony battery and multiple misdemeanors; he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor for kicking Kaiser, and was sentenced to a year in jail with all but two days suspended. He was also suspended from his job without pay for 60 days.
Though a grand jury declined to indict Jacobs, a Republican who has also been on the Clark County court for five years, the Indiana Supreme Court suspended him for 30 days without pay. Bell received an identical suspension.
Kaiser, who is accused of firing on the judges, faces eight felony and six misdemeanor charges in a jury trial set to begin on Jan. 13. His lawyer declined to comment on Friday.
Court records show that Vazquez pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor battery charge, and received a yearlong sentence that was mostly suspended. His lawyer could not be reached.
A lawyer representing Jacobs released a statement on Friday saying, “Judge Jacobs acknowledged that his behavior that evening, although not illegal, was unbecoming of a judge and that his actions were injudicious and reflected poorly upon him and his peers on the bench.” A lawyer for Adams declined to comment, though the judge has previously released a statement expressing regret for his actions. Bell, a Republican who began her tenure in Crawford County in 2017, represented herself in the disciplinary proceedings. On Friday, she declined to comment on the case.
As circuit judges, they hear all kinds of cases — small claims, felonies, misdemeanors — though Jacobs’ office said about 90% of the cases his court hears are drug-related.
In its opinion, the Indiana Supreme Court said that the three judges’ behavior “fell far short” of their code of conduct, which directs them to “aspire at all times to conduct that ensures the greatest possible public confidence in their independence, impartiality, integrity, and competence.”