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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. Where may I find an attorney working Pro Bono? Many issues with divorce, my Disability, distribution of IRA's, property, money's and pressured into agreement by my attorney. Leaving me far less than 5% of all after 15 years of marriage. No money to appeal, disabled living on disability income. Attorney's decision brought forward to judge, no evidence ever to finalize divorce. Just 2 weeks ago. Please help.

  2. For the record no one could answer the equal protection / substantive due process challenge I issued in the first post below. The lawless and accountable only to power bureaucrats never did either. All who interface with the Indiana law examiners or JLAP be warned.

  3. Hi there I really need help with getting my old divorce case back into court - I am still paying support on a 24 year old who has not been in school since age 16 - now living independent. My visitation with my 14 year old has never been modified; however, when convenient for her I can have him... I am paying past balance from over due support, yet earn several thousand dollars less. I would contact my original attorney but he basically molest me multiple times in Indy when I would visit.. Todd Woodmansee - I had just came out and had know idea what to do... I have heard he no longer practices. Please help1

  4. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  5. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

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