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Aspiring attorneys general face off: Other campaigns get the spotlight, but this one deserves a closer look

Rebecca Berfanger
January 1, 2008
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With at least two very closely watched races in Indiana - governor and president - and multiple political theories about how either race will go, there's bound to be less attention paid to some of the other candidates.

But with Republican Gregory Zoeller and Democrat Linda Pence up for the attorney general post and the incumbent Steve Carter not running, this race is worth another look.

At stake is the oversight of the state attorney general's office, basically a very large law firm with 140 lawyers that represent more cases before the state appellate courts than any traditional law firm.

A public law firm

Zoeller compares his current role as chief deputy to the Indiana attorney general to that of managing partner at a law firm. But the attorney general's office would be called a "public law firm," he said.

Similar issues between private law firms and the state office are how they address recruitment and retention of employees and job satisfaction. However, deputy attorneys general typically make less than lawyers at private law firms of similar size.

Other differences are significant, Zoeller said, because "we only have one client, the state of Indiana and the people who live here." He contrasts this with a private law firm that would represent a number of clients and with those clients there is a business interest in terms of the number of billable hours.

Zoeller said that under Carter, the office also has created an emphasis on mediation when possible.

The current administration also has worked with people at various levels of the justice system to explain what it is that they can do to have fewer cases overturned on appeal. For instance, an exchange program between the deputy county prosecutors who work at the trial level and deputy attorneys general who work at the appellate level helps each get to know how the other works and what each could improve.

These exchanges and other information the attorney general's office has shared with county-level prosecutors, police departments, and others who work on cases at the trial level have helped boost the number of successfully defended cases on appeal from about 80 percent under Carter's predecessor to 93 percent now.

"I like to say it's up to county prosecutors to put criminals behind bars and the attorney general office's job to keep them there," he said.

There's merit to working with state agencies early on when they're making decisions to avoid situations that aren't legally defensible," he said.

Zoeller would continue the work he's been doing under Carter but would add a few programs. One program he'd like to implement is something similar to the "Do Not Call" list, which he helped implement under Carter, but would be an opt-in program for parents to protect their children from Internet predators.

A better place for all

While Pence may be unfamiliar intimately with how the office works, she thinks the role of the attorney general should be tougher than it already is. She would also look into what the office outsources and determine what could be done more efficiently.

"It is the top lawyer in the state. ... I think the attorney general must be a leader in analyzing situations, defending and prosecuting lawsuits when appropriate. ... It's primary mission is to make the state a better place for all of us," she said.

Pence comes to the campaign as a litigator who started her career with the U.S. Department of Justice where she worked from 1974 to 1983. She saw what worked in the DOJ's office and has already started thinking about what could be applied to the attorney general's office.

Currently, she's co-chair of the litigation section at Taft Stettinius & Hollister in Indianapolis and decided to run for office because she wanted to give something back to Indiana.

"I want to take this office to a whole other level," she said. "What I will do when I'm attorney general is first to set priorities that have not been set but in my view should be."

Among these priorities is the protection of children when it comes to both child fatalities and children targeted by predators, such as adults who volunteer at schools.

She said she also would take a more offensive stance when it comes to meth labs.

Pence also would take another look at what the state can do to help people facing mortgage fraud, foreclosures, and bankruptcies - especially when it comes to groups that may be more at risk, such as the elderly.

Role of office

While it's not that Zoeller wants these things to continue, he interprets the role of the attorney general's office as one that may sometimes help prosecutors with cases in their counties, but more often than not will leave county-level cases to the county prosecutors unless he's specifically asked for help.

And if there are allegations of fraud, he said the role of the office is to look for patterns and take action when necessary, based on the decision of the Consumer Protection Division.

However, Pence said that the mortgage crisis is something she's known about at least since the first or second year of the current administration, but it's something she doesn't think the office has taken seriously enough.

While Pence has been criticized in the media for having defended clients against the attorney general's office, she disagrees, saying that experience can only make her stronger.

After working as a prosecutor, representing defendants and plaintiffs on the civil side, "I know the tricks," she said.

In response to any concerns there may be about conflicts with former clients, Pence said it's just the nature of being in the practice of law and that they can happen all the time because it's always possible that someone is someone's former client, friend, or relative.

The winner of this race also may depend on the governor's race because Zoeller and incumbent Gov. Mitch Daniels have been publicly supporting each other as Pence and gubernatorial challenger Jill Long Thompson have publicly supported one another.

Or it may not matter.

Former political reporter, lawyer, and commentator who has been paying close attention to this race, Jennifer Wagner, said either way this is a race to watch.

"The two candidates from everything I've heard are raising a fair amount of money for paid media," she said. "This is not a high-profile race, which may mean that it's more in play because people don't know a lot about either candidate. I've been seeing more ads from both. ... A lot of folks are writing off this race, and I think you've got two strong candidates."

Wagner added that there may be more ticket splitting this year considering the close race between McCain and Obama, even though Indiana is traditionally a Republican state.

She added that the fact Pence is a woman may help her, especially if there are people who don't vote for Thompson but still want to vote for a woman.

"That's just pure political theory," Wagner said, adding that Pence and Zoeller's differing views on the role of the office may make a difference to some voters.

"I would guess nine out of 10 people in the general public don't know what the AG does," she said. "While in reality the office is an administrative role, people tend to think the AG is like the district attorney in 'Law & Order,' a courtroom brawler."

For more information about both candidates, including their campaign videos and biographies, visit their Web sites. Zoeller's campaign is available at http://www.z4ag.com; Pence's campaign is at http://www.lindaforag.com. Election Day is Nov. 4. •
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  1. Applause, applause, applause ..... but, is this duty to serve the constitutional order not much more incumbent upon the State, whose only aim is to be pure and unadulterated justice, than defense counsel, who is also charged with gaining a result for a client? I agree both are responsible, but it seems to me that the government attorneys bear a burden much heavier than defense counsel .... "“I note, much as we did in Mechling v. State, 16 N.E.3d 1015 (Ind. Ct. App. 2014), trans. denied, that the attorneys representing the State and the defendant are both officers of the court and have a responsibility to correct any obvious errors at the time they are committed."

  2. Do I have to hire an attorney to get co-guardianship of my brother? My father has guardianship and my older sister was his co-guardian until this Dec 2014 when she passed and my father was me to go on as the co-guardian, but funds are limit and we need to get this process taken care of quickly as our fathers health isn't the greatest. So please advise me if there is anyway to do this our self or if it requires a lawyer? Thank you

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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)

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