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Judges: 11-year-old conviction had little probative value

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The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Tuesday affirmed the decision by the District Court in Hammond preventing a defendant from using an 11-year-old conviction to impeach a testifying co-defendant in a wire fraud case.

Phillip Rucker, Sheila Chandler and Jerry Haymon were indicted by a grand jury with engaging in a mortgage fraud scheme. Rucker was charged with one count of wire fraud for his participation and was later convicted and sentenced to 30 months in prison, one year of supervised release and ordered to pay nearly $74,000 in restitution.

Rucker recruited Leequiter Smith to purchase a property in Gary for $85,000; Haymon led the seller to believe that he would sell the property for $35,000. Chandler completed false documents to support Smith’s loan application and Rucker helped obtain a down payment for Smith from an acquaintance who claimed in a gift letter to be Smith’s brother. For his part in the scheme, Rucker received $10,000.

The issue in United States of America v. Phillip Rucker, 13-1297, is whether the District Court abused its discretion in finding that, under the circumstances, the probative value of Chandler’s 2000 prior conviction for thefts of public funds did not substantially outweigh its prejudicial effect.

“Rucker maintains that Chandler’s 2000 conviction for a theft concerning a program receiving federal funds was especially probative because it shows that her trial testimony, that she began lying in 2004, was false. Rucker, however, mischaracterizes Chandler’s testimony,” wrote Judge Frederick L. Kapala of the Northern District of Illinois, who was sitting by designation. “Chandler testified that she began to lie to mortgage lenders on behalf of buyers and to create false documents in 2004, not that she was never dishonest before 2004. As such, Chandler’s 2000 conviction does not have the probative value that Rucker assigns to it.”

He also claimed Chandler’s testimony was the “lynchpin of the government’s case against him.”

“Even giving Rucker the benefit of the doubt and assuming that the jury believed that Rucker truly thought the house was worth $85,000, the disbursement of $20,000 (nearly a quarter of the proceeds of the sale) to himself and Smith after the closing and the $4,000 contribution by Haymon was strong evidence that Rucker knew that fraud was afoot. Therefore, the jury did not need to rely on Chandler’s testimony alone to conclude that Rucker knowingly engaged in this scheme to defraud,” Kapala wrote.
 

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  4. JLAP and other courtiers ... Those running court systems, have most substance abuse issues. Probably self medicating to cover conscience issues arising out of acts furthering govt corruption

  5. I whole-heartedly agree with Doug Church's comment, above. Indiana lawyers were especially fortunate to benefit from Tom Pyrz' leadership and foresight at a time when there has been unprecedented change in the legal profession. Consider how dramatically computer technology and its role in the practice of law have changed over the last 25 years. The impact of the great recession of 2008 dramatically changed the composition and structure of law firms across the country. Economic pressures altered what had long been a routine, robust annual recruitment process for law students and recent law school graduates. That has, in turn, impacted law school enrollment across the country, placing upward pressure on law school tuition. The internet continues to drive significant changes in the provision of legal services in both public and private sectors. The ISBA has worked to make quality legal representation accessible and affordable for all who need it and to raise general public understanding of Indiana laws and procedures. How difficult it would have been to tackle each of these issues without Tom's leadership. Tom has set the tone for positive change at the ISBA to meet the evolving practice needs of lawyers of all backgrounds and ages. He has led the organization with vision, patience, flexibility, commitment, thoughtfulness & even humor. He will, indeed, be a tough act to follow. Thank you, Tom, for all you've done and all the energy you've invested in making the ISBA an excellent, progressive, highly responsive, all-inclusive, respectful & respected professional association during his tenure there.

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