A local public defender faces three formal charges by the Indiana Commission on Judicial Qualifications after reportedly having a romantic relationship with her client.
Lisa Traylor-Wolff was accused Monday of engaging in kissing and excessive fondling with a defendant in a visitation room while he was incarcerated at Miami Correctional Facility in Peru between May and June of last year. Traylor-Wolff, who was also a judge, awaits a public hearing before any formal penalties are handed down from the Indiana Supreme Court.
Click here for a detailed description of the charges.
The cause number in the formal statement from the Indiana Supreme Court traces back to Scott Wampler, a 26-year-old Monticello man, who Traylor-Wolff represented as a public defender in an August 2011 burglary and criminal confinement case.
Formal charges detail that after repeated romantic encounters in the visitation room, officers saw Traylor-Wolff and Wampler engaged in near sexual behavior.
“Correction officers observed [Scott Wampler] and [Lisa Traylor-Wolff] at the end of the visit on June 15th engaged in excessive fondling with intent to sexually gratify over the clothing,” the statement reads.
The relationship reportedly began in mid-May 2012, after Traylor-Wolff had submitted the briefs for Wampler’s appeal of his 40-year-sentence. Throughout the relationship, the statement says Traylor-Wolff “gave S.W. art books, made cash deposits to his prison email account, sent him personal emails, and completed a Bible study with him.”
She was consequently charged for violating the rules of professional conduct by engaging in sexual relations with her client, representing the client if there is a significant risk that the representation will be materially limited by personal interest of the lawyer and from engaging in activities that would appear to undermine the judge’s independence, integrity, or impartiality.
Traylor-Wolff has 20 days to file a response to the charges.
She could not be reached for comment at her office Monday and did not return a call left for her at her home. Her Indianapolis-based attorney, James Bell, emailed a statement saying that she has been working with the Commission on Judicial Qualifications, who investigated the incident.
“Ms. Traylor-Wolff has been fully cooperative with the Commission on Judicial Qualifications throughout its investigation and will continue to be cooperative for the remainder of the process,” Bell wrote.
Katherine Doland, public information officer for the Indiana Supreme Court, said after Traylor-Wolff files her response to the charges, the Indiana Supreme Court will appoint three masters to hold a public hearing on the matter.
Doland said the charges could be dismissed or Traylor-Wolff could face penalties ranging from a public reprimand to losing her law license. She added that there is also the possibility of a settlement, which functions like a plea agreement.
“It depends essentially on the hearing and what the findings are,” Doland said.
Wampler was accused of breaking into a Georgian Lane home in August 2011, tying up a woman and her mother-in-law and holding them at gunpoint. He then reportedly stole a large amount of money and fled the scene, according to previously published reports.
During his Jan. 10, 2012 sentencing hearing, Traylor-Wolff wept as she said she had “witnessed a transformation in her client,” according to reports. She asked for more time on work release, rather than a longer prison sentence.
Wampler was sentenced to 30 years in prison and 10 years on work release after he had pleaded guilty in October 2011 to class B felony charges of burglary and criminal confinement.
Ann Hubbard, public information office for the Miami Correctional Facility, told the Pharos-Tribune in a January interview that Wampler arrived at the prison on Feb. 20, 2012. He was then transferred Jan. 9, 2013 to Indiana State Prison in Michigan City, but Hubbard said she could not comment on the reason.
She said he was able to regularly meet with Traylor-Wolff while he was in the prison.
“Mr. Wampler was able to receive visits from his attorney throughout his stay at Miami Correctional Facility,” Hubbard said.
Though Traylor-Wolff works out of the Leeman Law Office, attorney Kelly Leeman said she runs her own independent practice and leases space from them. Because they’re not in the same practice, Leeman said their cases would not be affected by the pending charges.
“It’s not affecting our office practice,” Leeman said.
He would not say whether Traylor-Wolff would continue her practice in their office, but said that they’re considering the matter.
“Some adjustments are being made,” Leeman said.
However, Leeman said he believed his son, Mark Leeman, had already been assigned to some of her public defender cases.
“I think that some of her work as a public defender is being transferred to him,” Leeman said.
Neither Bob Murray nor Sheryl Pherson, the two heads of public defenders in Cass County, could be reached for comment Monday.
Leeman said he had been aware of the investigation before the formal charges were filed Monday. He added that he believed Traylor-Wolff was taking the right course of action by hiring her own attorney for the case.
“It’s a very regrettable situation that she finds herself in, and I understand that she has taken the appropriate steps with the judicial center,” Leeman said.
Traylor-Wolff is a former Chief Deputy Prosecutor and Superior Court and County Court Judge in Pulaski County, as well as a former Deputy City Attorney for the City of Logansport. She has served as a senior judge from Jan. 1, 2001 to Dec. 31, 2012 and was admitted to the Indiana bar in 1986.
She did not ask to be re-certified as a senior judge in 2013.
Caitlin Huston is a staff reporter of the Pharos-Tribune. She can be reached at 574-732-5148 or email@example.com.