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Theft case requires special prosecutor

February 27, 2009

The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed the denial of a man's request for the reappointment of a special prosecutor because the original basis for appointing the special prosecutor still existed even after one charge was dropped.

Bruce Jones was charged with felony theft, felony forgery, felony impersonating a public servant, and being a habitual offender. Jones would telephone the local chapter of the American Red Cross and say he was Curtis Hill, the elected prosecutor of Elkhart County. Jones claimed he was calling on behalf of people who had been victims of disasters and successfully got disaster relief funds twice from the organization. He was caught on his third attempt.

The state filed motions requesting a special prosecutor to avoid the appearance of impropriety. A special prosecutor was appointed, but when an Elkhart Deputy Prosecutor filed a motion to dismiss the impersonating a public servant charge, the special prosecutor withdrew his appearance on the basis he was no longer necessary. Jones moved for the reappointment of a special prosecutor and was denied, resulting in the appeal in Bruce Jones v. State of Indiana, No. 20A04-0808-CR-462.

Even though the impersonating a public servant charge was dropped, the need for a special prosecutor didn't end, wrote Judge Michael Barnes. When the charges were first filed, Hill told news media he was troubled that a local business and organization had been victimized by someone using his name, and based on that statement, the general public could be led to believe that Hill would be motivated to treat Jones more harshly than an "ordinary" theft suspect, wrote the judge. The filings in the case suggested the special prosecutor was requested and appointed for the general purpose of avoiding the appearance of impropriety in Jones' prosecution for all the charges.

"The dismissal changed the form of the case against Jones, but the substance was largely unchanged. The trial court erred in not appointing another special prosecutor or, alternatively, permitting the appointed the special prosecutor to withdraw his appearance," wrote Judge Barnes.

The appellate court remanded for the appointment of a special prosecutor in the forgery and theft cases against Jones.

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