The Ethics Challenge

The Indianapolis Star actually engaged in journalism yesterday, and the result wasn’t comforting: a lengthy story about DCS director and former Juvenile Court Judge James Payne. Payne abused his position and fought the professionals in his own agency in a case involving his grandchildren.

You can read the details in the Star, which devoted significant space to the story.

My question isn’t so much about the sordid accusations and depressing details of the Payne son’s divorce and custody battle. It is bemusement over the elder Payne’s indignant refusal to recognize his own ethical transgression. When I was in law school–and the Judge and I are roughly the same age–there was a mandatory course in legal ethics. Conflicts of interest and abuses of power were central to that course. But even if the content of law school classes has faded, the Judge has always presented himself as a deeply religious man; he has worn his Christianity on his sleeve. Isn’t there something about “do unto others” that might have alerted him to the impropriety of his behavior?

Governor Daniels’ office was quick to distance itself from the Judge, protesting a complete unawareness of his inappropriate involvement in the case involving his own grandchildren. I believe the Governor–after all, he has been unaware of half-billion dollar “errors” in his administration, too. But the Governor has a history of turning a blind eye toward behaviors that raise ethical questions–notably, hiring a well-connected law firm to represent the state in the IBM lawsuit. That firm represents ACS–yes, the same ACS that made out like a bandit in the deal to manage Indianapolis’ parking meters.

ACS was IBM’s partner in the huge contract to manage Indiana’s welfare eligibility operations, and (unlike IBM) wasn’t terminated when the problems with that privatization effort became too embarrassing to ignore. When reporters raised questions about the propriety of hiring ACS’ lawyers to sue its former partner, the firm defended itself by pointing out that it had disclosed its conflicts–in a letter that took seven pages to detail them. (Maybe I’m dense, but I’ve never understood why disclosing an impropriety makes it go away.)

It was all very cozy. All in the family, you might say.

The real lesson here, I suppose, is that we can’t depend upon any administration to police itself in order to avoid self-serving behaviors. We need watchdogs–real newspapers to report on our elected and appointed officials. It was nice to see the Star acting like a real newspaper for a change.


  1. On the news this morning was reference to some round-abouts to be constructed here. This article tells of another form of round-about and children have died due to the unethical, untrained, unknowledgable and obviously uncaring leadership of somebody else’s man Mitch and one of his many cronies. Payne made some questionable decisions while a Juvenile Court Judge; the lack of proper care for children under his guidance of CPS has often been in the news. I had the misfortune of having two great-granddaughters caught up in the CPS system; one who received no help when it was needed, placed back with her abusive mother, and another who should not have been in the system in the first place. This man obviously had problems with his own parenting system but for years has been overseeing hundreds of young children who suffered, and died, under his questionable leadership. Unfortunately, uncovering this man’s failings and lack of ethics have come too late to save many of them but, we can save hundreds of other children by forcing him out of office.

  2. This happened in 2010.

    Where was Indiana Inspector General David Thomas and the Ethics Commission on this?

    Certainly someone notified them in such a nasty dispute, yet it appears this issue was just dropped into a black hole, until today.

    The Governor gets a report on all allegations of Ethics Violations from the Indiana Inspector General’s daily log.

    So Why Does Mitch Daniels Say He Knows Nothing About This?

    Inspector General’s Office Becomes A Black Hole For Ethics Violations

  3. As an adopted child, I cannot abide this! When the system errs, it should be on the side of what is best for the child/children involved. Sheila picked the perfect title for this piece. ‘The Ethics Challenge’ definitely speaks to the ‘ethically challenged,’ and there are no excuses! None!

  4. PS Thanks to Sheila and so many others who have brought the situation out into the light of day. Thanks from adopted/foster children and those who have fallen through the cracks…and there ARE cracks…in the system.

  5. Where I worked we saw a significant number of children in foster care or adopted and hearing the stories and witnessing the crap these children go through….well it is nothing short of pure neglect on the state’s behalf. Just gross neglicgience and I do not believe the child’s best interest in ever sincerely in their utmost minds.

    It really is a disgrace and it further infuriates me that DCS turned over all that money when it is clearly needed. Urgh!!

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