To the editor:
Over the course of my 41 years as a member of the Indiana bar, I have worked to help improve the justice system in Marion County and the state of Indiana. Many of those activities have involved working to uphold the integrity of the bench and bar. You can imagine my surprise, then, upon reading articles in the Indiana Lawyer, The Indianapolis Star, and the Indianapolis Business Journal falsely impugning my integrity and the integrity of our law firm.
Specifically, those articles suggested that an associate of this firm and I secured a sentence modification for Paula Willoughby in 2009 that was based on campaign contributions instead of the merits of this particular case. These suggestions are baseless and are the result of reckless journalism.
I represented Ms. Willoughby in her original trial in March of 1992. That trial ended in a mistrial, and I represented her in the re-trial in August of 1992. My involvement in Ms. Willoughby’s case ended in 1996, when the Indiana Supreme Court affirmed her conviction following appeal and reduced her sentence from 110 years to 70 years. I have had absolutely no involvement in her sentence modification whatsoever, contrary to the false suggestions in the reporting of this matter.
The insinuation that campaign contributions made by me and associate Jennifer Lukemeyer were improper and resulted in the modification is equally inaccurate. Over the course of my career, and as a Democrat, I have given to candidates of both parties in local, state, and national elections. In the last election for Marion County prosecutor, I made a donation to the campaigns of both Carl Brizzi and his opponent, Melina Kennedy. My motivation in making these and other donations has been to support well-suited candidates to improve our government. I have never made an improper donation or accepted an improper advantage from making a donation, and neither has Jennifer Lukemeyer. Suggestions to the contrary are false and could have been resolved with proper research.
There is a lengthy tradition of campaign support from members of the Indiana bar to candidates in local elections. Lawyers often have many interactions with local candidates, whereas the typical citizen has no interaction with local candidates. As a result, lawyers are often better informed to evaluate local candidates, and in many instances have been asked by those candidates to fund their campaigns. A number of years ago, I was a member of the Indianapolis Bar Association Board of Managers. We discussed, and I supported, establishing a blind trust for campaign contributions to judicial candidates. The idea was not embraced at the time. This idea is again being considered by the Indianapolis Bar Association and many others following the United States Supreme Court opinion in Caperton v. Massey, which addressed contributions to judicial candidates. While I continue to support the idea of establishing a blind trust, the contributions made by me and my associates were proper and had no bearing on the outcome of any case.
Readers of the articles covering the Willoughby case and several other cases should note that no effort was made by the media to disclose the merits of granting the requested relief. One such case was that of Guilford Forney, represented by Bruce Donaldson at Barnes & Thornburg. Mr. Donaldson has written an eloquent letter, published in the Indianapolis Business Journal and Indiana Lawyer detailing the specific deficiencies of the reporting in these cases. I agree with him when he wrote that the media has injured its own reputation and credibility as a reliable source of information as a result of these articles.
James H. Voyles Jr.
Voyles Zahn Paul Hogan & Merriman, Indianapolis