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Brizzi disciplinary case poses 'actual prejudice' question

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Former Marion County prosecutor Carl Brizzi took the stand today, defending himself against attorney misconduct charges alleging that he violated professional conduct rules by public statements made on pending cases.

Testifying before Shelby Circuit Court Judge Charles O’Connor just a week after leaving the elected prosecutor’s office, Brizzi told the hearing officer that he didn’t believe he had done anything wrong in making statements about two high-profile murder cases after charges were filed in 2006 and 2008 and that the defendants in those cases received fair trials. But the Indiana Disciplinary Commission contends that Brizzi’s comments violated the rules and that his conduct years ago went against the administration of justice.

The commission filed a formal complaint against Brizzi Oct. 1, 2009, accusing him of making statements that went beyond the public information purpose and prejudiced the cases. The complaint contends that this conduct amounted to violations of Indiana Professional Conduct Rules 3.8(f) and Rule 3.6(a).

One of the allegations stems from an April 2008 news conference, when Brizzi made statements about accused multi-state serial killer Bruce Mendenhall. The second allegation involves a 2006 news release about the Indianapolis Hamilton Avenue slayings, where seven people were killed and Brizzi initially sought the death penalty. A comment in that news release stated about the defendants, "They weren't going to let anyone or anything get in the way of what they believed to be an easy score."

Arguing for the Disciplinary Commission, attorney David Hughes said those comments were prejudicial against the individuals. He insinuated that the motivation behind the statements was part of a larger message the prosecutor was sending at a time when Indianapolis was experiencing higher crime trends and, in 2006, when Brizzi faced a heated election race.

“In today’s media market, what a prosecutor says in public really matters, especially in a big market like Indianapolis,” Hughes said.

Attorney Matthew Symons, who works as a deputy prosecutor in Marion County and had previously served as Brizzi’s media relations manager and former 2006 campaign manager, was the only other person aside from Brizzi to testify. He spoke about the prosecutor’s office standards and practices in holding press conferences and communicating with the media.

On the stand, Brizzi furthered Symons’ explanation and said he strived as prosecutor to help explain what was happening in his office and with criminal proceedings in a way that the public could easily understand. He discussed how he found out about the Hamilton Avenue slayings when he was out of the state in 2006 and how he always worked to be mindful of due process and potential prejudice issues.

“It’s a delicate balance you have to strike,” he said in reference to a question from his attorney about how the conduct rules apply to prosecutor statements. “The public doesn’t know what we’re reviewing in the office, so we must tell them. I want to give out as much information as I can to the public, without interfering with a defendant’s right to a fair trial.”

Brizzi testified that he couldn’t recall the particular context behind the isolated comments that are alleged to be rule violations. In that they were both capital cases involving the death penalty, Brizzi said he wanted to make sure the general public understood why he was making such a “monumental decision” involving both defendants.

Hughes argued that the comments were prejudicial to the administration of justice as soon as they were spoken because actual prejudice of jurors shouldn’t be required as proof. He cited a comment from U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy about how actual prejudice shouldn’t be required because then any “Disciplinary Commission is a fool’s errand.”

But the defense disagreed. Brizzi said that is not what he has always understood the rule to be and, if it was, this case would not have gotten to this stage.

“If it’s a strict ‘you said it’ test, then we’re done,” Brizzi said. “I said it, and admit that. But it’s not (the test), and I don’t think this was prejudicial to the trial and the evidence shows that. I do not believe I violated those rules.”

Both parties have until Feb. 25 to submit proposed findings, and then Judge O’Connor will issue a report before sending the case to the Indiana Supreme Court for review. The ultimate disciplinary decision and any sanction would be up to the five justices.
 

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  • Okay
    So when do they investigate Brizzi for corrupt influence peddling to his cronies like Paul Page and Tm Durham?
  • Brizzi
    Everytime brizzi made a big bust he would brag to the media about what a tough prosecutor he was. Most of his big cases went south, especially ones he handled. But he never went to the media to apologize for prosecuting innocent people. And he didn't apologize for letting off friends and using his office for peresonal gain.

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  1. I gave tempparry guardship to a friend of my granddaughter in 2012. I went to prison. I had custody. My daughter went to prison to. We are out. My daughter gave me custody but can get her back. She was not order to give me custody . but now we want granddaughter back from friend. She's 14 now. What rights do we have

  2. This sure is not what most who value good governance consider the Rule of Law to entail: "In a letter dated March 2, which Brizzi forwarded to IBJ, the commission dismissed the grievance “on grounds that there is not reasonable cause to believe that you are guilty of misconduct.”" Yet two month later reasonable cause does exist? (Or is the commission forging ahead, the need for reasonable belief be damned? -- A seeming violation of the Rules of Profession Ethics on the part of the commission) Could the rule of law theory cause one to believe that an explanation is in order? Could it be that Hoosier attorneys live under Imperial Law (which is also a t-word that rhymes with infamy) in which the Platonic guardians can do no wrong and never owe the plebeian class any explanation for their powerful actions. (Might makes it right?) Could this be a case of politics directing the commission, as celebrated IU Mauer Professor (the late) Patrick Baude warned was happening 20 years ago in his controversial (whisteblowing) ethics lecture on a quite similar topic: http://www.repository.law.indiana.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1498&context=ilj

  3. I have a case presently pending cert review before the SCOTUS that reveals just how Indiana regulates the bar. I have been denied licensure for life for holding the wrong views and questioning the grand inquisitors as to their duties as to state and federal constitutional due process. True story: https://www.scribd.com/doc/299040839/2016Petitionforcert-to-SCOTUS Shorter, Amici brief serving to frame issue as misuse of govt licensure: https://www.scribd.com/doc/312841269/Thomas-More-Society-Amicus-Brown-v-Ind-Bd-of-Law-Examiners

  4. Here's an idea...how about we MORE heavily regulate the law schools to reduce the surplus of graduates, driving starting salaries up for those new grads, so that we can all pay our insane amount of student loans off in a reasonable amount of time and then be able to afford to do pro bono & low-fee work? I've got friends in other industries, radiology for example, and their schools accept a very limited number of students so there will never be a glut of new grads and everyone's pay stays high. For example, my radiologist friend's school accepted just six new students per year.

  5. I totally agree with John Smith.

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