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AG wants justices to consider prosecutor disqualification

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Arguing that prosecutors must face an actual conflict of interest before they can be removed from a case, the Office of the Indiana Attorney General wants the state justices to take the high-profile case of a former state trooper being tried for murders that happened more than a decade ago.

The AG filed a transfer petition Thursday in the case of David R. Camm v. State of Indiana, No. 87A01-1102-CR-00025, in which the Indiana Court of Appeals in November held that Floyd County Prosecutor Keith Henderson can’t be involved with David Camm’s retrial. Twice convicted of killing his wife and two young children, Camm has had his convictions overturned on appeal; the most recent in July 2009. He faces a third trial in Warrick County.

Henderson had signed an agreement to publish a book about the Camm case before the man was sentenced to life without parole at a second trial in 2006, but after the Supreme Court ordered a new trial, Henderson ended the contract with the publisher. He hasn’t entered into a new one to write a book about the case in the future. Defense attorneys argued that contract created a conflict of interest and a special prosecutor should be appointed. The Court of Appeals agreed.

But in the AG’s transfer petition, the state argues that the intermediate appellate court wrongly removed Henderson based on Indiana’s disqualification statute and set a new standard that only an appearance of impropriety is needed to involuntary disqualify a prosecutor.

Writing that the Court of Appeals believed Henderson made himself an issue at trial, the AG’s brief says the appellate court incorrectly looked at what the prosecutor might do in the future and didn’t rely on the record in the case – now referred to as Camm III - when making its decision.

“This new addition to the special prosecutor statute does little to assist prosecutors in understanding what they may do or must avoid,” the brief says. “Before Camm III, the standard for disqualifying a prosecuting attorney was the existence of circumstances proving an actual conflict of interest. Camm III appears to add a balancing test, in which the prosecutor’s personal desires or statements are measured against speculative predictions about what will, or will not, be allowed at a future trial. It is unclear whether a prosecutor will not be disqualified for an egregious remark that cannot arguably affect the conduct of the trial, but may be disqualified for a slight remark that could arguably affect the trial. The Court of Appeals erred by holding that a personal desire that embraces any consideration beyond the legal duties of a prosecuting attorney may be grounds for disqualification and its decision on this ground should be reversed.”

 

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