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Hogsett lifts US attorney's public profile

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Joe Hogsett made a point after he was confirmed in 2010 to visit each of the 60 counties he represented as the new U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Indiana.

He met with local police, prosecutors and law enforcement officials. But he often needed no introduction due to his long involvement in Democratic politics, including election to statewide office as secretary of state under Gov. Evan Bayh.

il-joe-hogsett01-1col.jpg U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Indiana Joe Hogsett said his office is focused on prosecuting gun crimes, public corruption cases and white-collar crime. (IBJ Photo/ Perry Reichanadter)

After his appointment by President Barack Obama, Hogsett’s new persona was an aggressive law-and-order federal prosecutor. He told officials his office would train its resources on gun violence, going after “the worst of the worst” offenders, public corruption and white-collar crime.

“For the most part, they congratulated me, wished me well,” Hogsett said in an interview. But he said another reaction commonly followed.

“In many cases they’d pull me aside and ask me, rather sheepishly, what the U.S. attorney does,” he said. “I came into office with a real desire to raise the profile of the office, because I know firsthand the importance of the work this office does.”

Hogsett said he also wanted to give credit to the approximately 30 attorneys and 50 support staff who work in the district’s Indianapolis and Evansville offices.

Hogsett also found law enforcement officials were frustrated that cases they recommended for federal prosecution didn’t get made. His response: “We’re not going to promise you the moon. … We’re going to turn over a new leaf and open up channels of communication we’ve never opened up before.

“If you are genuinely successful in reaching out to local law enforcement, if you are there to assist them … 50 percent of your job is accomplished right there,” he said.

But some question why particular cases end up in federal court and similar cases don’t, and wonder about motivations of a far-more public federal prosecutor.

Making federal cases

Since Hogsett took office, more than twice as many people have been prosecuted in federal court compared to the number prosecuted under interim U.S. Attorney Tim Morrison, who retired in 2011.

Hogsett said 442 defendants were charged in federal court in 2011 – he called it “a banner year for the U.S. Attorney’s Office” in a press release – compared with 216 in 2009. Former U.S. Attorney Susan Brooks, who resigned in 2007, prosecuted 369 people in her final full year.

Brooks and Morrison declined requests for comment.

Hogsett said that in 2010, 103 indictments were issued for felony gun charges compared with just 14 in 2009.

Federal charges increase the likelihood of pretrial detention and severity of sentences. Federal prisons require 85 percent of a sentenced be served; Indiana Department of Correction guidelines can cut time served on a sentence by half or more.

But Indiana Federal Community Defenders Executive Director William E. Marsh said the numbers cut another way. There’s reason to be troubled by the spike in federal prosecutions and by a higher profile for the U.S. attorney, he said.

“I don’t know exactly what the purpose of raising the profile is. There are potential downsides to raising the profile,” Marsh said. “From my perspective, that has the potential of changing the balance between state and federal prosecutions. We’ve always had what I consider a good balance … they’ve federalized a lot more things that traditionally have been state court matters.

“It’s a change in our district for sure,” Marsh said.

Longtime Butler University history professor George Geib said such debates have existed as long as have federal courts. “The beauty and the curse of the American system is the federal/state balance is imprecise,” said Geib, who with Indianapolis attorney Donald B. Kite Sr. co-authored “Federal Justice in Indiana: The History of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana.”

“It’s very hard to compare different U.S. attorneys one to the other because they operate at different times, the membership of the court changes, and to a degree the personality and the procedures of a courtroom change,” Geib said. “Much more serious, the issues change.”

The key issue for Hogsett is gun crime. “If you are a convicted felon, you have no right to possess a firearm, period,” he said. “Yet there are enormous numbers of violent felons in possession of firearms.”

Hogsett also has prosecuted “straw purchases,” in which firearms are bought and supplied to felons who use them to commit crimes. He gained federal convictions against 14 people peripherally involved in the murders of Indianapolis police officer David Moore and Terre Haute police officer Brent Long. At least two gun dealers also have been charged in federal court with selling to felons and/or failing to collect required documentation.

Such crimes require the force of federal law, Hogsett said. But Marsh said federal prosecutors also are picking “low-hanging fruit.”

“One concern that I’ve seen a little bit of evidence of is there may be a tendency to take into federal court some cases we would say are easy cases,” Marsh said, “because it raises the number of arrests. The reality is that for every gun case filed in federal court, there are probably 50 out there that can be filed in federal court but aren’t. We’ve seen some really unjust sentences.”

Image and perception

Hogsett also is targeting public corruption, appointing a working group to investigate allegations that includes members from such diverse federal and state agencies as the FBI and state police to the U.S. Postal Service. A hot line at the U.S. attorney’s office has been established for whistleblowers.

Prosecutions such as that of former Indianapolis City-County Councilman Lincoln Plowman on charges of attempted extortion and soliciting a bribe often come to light when Hogsett steps in front of cameras in news conferences to announce them. Marsh said such publicity disadvantages defense attorneys, who often can say little publicly.

Hogsett said it’s part of the job. “I’m in the unique position of being the only person able to speak for the federal (judicial) family.”

Geib said federal prosecutors have become more visible nationally.

“Many of the changes that have come about, including the use of publicity, is reflected in the way that a new generation of prosecutors have chosen to try the case,” Geib said. “It’s not so much Joe as it is the spirit of the times. You’re swimming in a stream, and you have to adjust to the currents and the eddies that are there.”

In a sense, that’s how Hogsett’s life in public service has been. Elected secretary of state in 1988, he unsuccessfully ran for U.S. Senate and U.S. House in the early 1990s. A former Democratic state party chairman, he managed Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in the state.

Hogsett was a partner at Bingham McHale (now Bingham Greenebaum Doll) in Indianapolis when Obama tapped him.

While Hogsett doesn’t rule out potential future political aspirations, he acknowledges that he serves at the president’s pleasure.

“I would like to continue doing what I’m doing,” he said. “If there is a change in the White House, there will be a change in U.S. attorneys. It’s all up to the voters.”•
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  1. I have been on this program while on parole from 2011-2013. No person should be forced mentally to share private details of their personal life with total strangers. Also giving permission for a mental therapist to report to your parole agent that your not participating in group therapy because you don't have the financial mean to be in the group therapy. I was personally singled out and sent back three times for not having money and also sent back within the six month when you aren't to be sent according to state law. I will work to het this INSOMM's removed from this state. I also had twelve or thirteen parole agents with a fifteen month period. Thanks for your time.

  2. Our nation produces very few jurists of the caliber of Justice DOUGLAS and his peers these days. Here is that great civil libertarian, who recognized government as both a blessing and, when corrupted by ideological interests, a curse: "Once the investigator has only the conscience of government as a guide, the conscience can become ‘ravenous,’ as Cromwell, bent on destroying Thomas More, said in Bolt, A Man For All Seasons (1960), p. 120. The First Amendment mirrors many episodes where men, harried and harassed by government, sought refuge in their conscience, as these lines of Thomas More show: ‘MORE: And when we stand before God, and you are sent to Paradise for doing according to your conscience, *575 and I am damned for not doing according to mine, will you come with me, for fellowship? ‘CRANMER: So those of us whose names are there are damned, Sir Thomas? ‘MORE: I don't know, Your Grace. I have no window to look into another man's conscience. I condemn no one. ‘CRANMER: Then the matter is capable of question? ‘MORE: Certainly. ‘CRANMER: But that you owe obedience to your King is not capable of question. So weigh a doubt against a certainty—and sign. ‘MORE: Some men think the Earth is round, others think it flat; it is a matter capable of question. But if it is flat, will the King's command make it round? And if it is round, will the King's command flatten it? No, I will not sign.’ Id., pp. 132—133. DOUGLAS THEN WROTE: Where government is the Big Brother,11 privacy gives way to surveillance. **909 But our commitment is otherwise. *576 By the First Amendment we have staked our security on freedom to promote a multiplicity of ideas, to associate at will with kindred spirits, and to defy governmental intrusion into these precincts" Gibson v. Florida Legislative Investigation Comm., 372 U.S. 539, 574-76, 83 S. Ct. 889, 908-09, 9 L. Ed. 2d 929 (1963) Mr. Justice DOUGLAS, concurring. I write: Happy Memorial Day to all -- God please bless our fallen who lived and died to preserve constitutional governance in our wonderful series of Republics. And God open the eyes of those government officials who denounce the constitutions of these Republics by arbitrary actions arising out capricious motives.

  3. From back in the day before secularism got a stranglehold on Hoosier jurists comes this great excerpt via Indiana federal court judge Allan Sharp, dedicated to those many Indiana government attorneys (with whom I have dealt) who count the law as a mere tool, an optional tool that is not to be used when political correctness compels a more acceptable result than merely following the path that the law directs: ALLEN SHARP, District Judge. I. In a scene following a visit by Henry VIII to the home of Sir Thomas More, playwriter Robert Bolt puts the following words into the mouths of his characters: Margaret: Father, that man's bad. MORE: There is no law against that. ROPER: There is! God's law! MORE: Then God can arrest him. ROPER: Sophistication upon sophistication! MORE: No, sheer simplicity. The law, Roper, the law. I know what's legal not what's right. And I'll stick to what's legal. ROPER: Then you set man's law above God's! MORE: No, far below; but let me draw your attention to a fact I'm not God. The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I can't navigate. I'm no voyager. But in the thickets of law, oh, there I'm a forester. I doubt if there's a man alive who could follow me there, thank God... ALICE: (Exasperated, pointing after Rich) While you talk, he's gone! MORE: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law! ROPER: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law! MORE: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? ROPER: I'd cut down every law in England to do that! MORE: (Roused and excited) Oh? (Advances on Roper) And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you where would you hide, Roper, the laws being flat? (He leaves *1257 him) This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast man's laws, not God's and if you cut them down and you're just the man to do it d'you really think you would stand upright in the winds that would blow then? (Quietly) Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake. ROPER: I have long suspected this; this is the golden calf; the law's your god. MORE: (Wearily) Oh, Roper, you're a fool, God's my god... (Rather bitterly) But I find him rather too (Very bitterly) subtle... I don't know where he is nor what he wants. ROPER: My God wants service, to the end and unremitting; nothing else! MORE: (Dryly) Are you sure that's God! He sounds like Moloch. But indeed it may be God And whoever hunts for me, Roper, God or Devil, will find me hiding in the thickets of the law! And I'll hide my daughter with me! Not hoist her up the mainmast of your seagoing principles! They put about too nimbly! (Exit More. They all look after him). Pgs. 65-67, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS A Play in Two Acts, Robert Bolt, Random House, New York, 1960. Linley E. Pearson, Atty. Gen. of Indiana, Indianapolis, for defendants. Childs v. Duckworth, 509 F. Supp. 1254, 1256 (N.D. Ind. 1981) aff'd, 705 F.2d 915 (7th Cir. 1983)

  4. "Meanwhile small- and mid-size firms are getting squeezed and likely will not survive unless they become a boutique firm." I've been a business attorney in small, and now mid-size firm for over 30 years, and for over 30 years legal consultants have been preaching this exact same mantra of impending doom for small and mid-sized firms -- verbatim. This claim apparently helps them gin up merger opportunities from smaller firms who become convinced that they need to become larger overnight. The claim that large corporations are interested in cost-saving and efficiency has likewise been preached for decades, and is likewise bunk. If large corporations had any real interest in saving money they wouldn't use large law firms whose rates are substantially higher than those of high-quality mid-sized firms.

  5. The family is the foundation of all human government. That is the Grand Design. Modern governments throw off this Design and make bureaucratic war against the family, as does Hollywood and cultural elitists such as third wave feminists. Since WWII we have been on a ship of fools that way, with both the elite and government and their social engineering hacks relentlessly attacking the very foundation of social order. And their success? See it in the streets of Fergusson, on the food stamp doles (mostly broken families)and in the above article. Reject the Grand Design for true social function, enter the Glorious State to manage social dysfunction. Our Brave New World will be a prison camp, and we will welcome it as the only way to manage given the anarchy without it.

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