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Brizzi discipline case could set new prejudice standard

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The Indiana Supreme Court’s Disciplinary Commission wants to set a new standard of “actual prejudice” for attorney misconduct. In making that argument, the validity of two high-profile murder convictions that Carl Brizzi secured during his time as prosecutor in the state’s largest county are being questioned.

Briefs were submitted last week in the disciplinary action against the former Marion County prosecutor, with both the state and defense issuing their findings and related legal arguments for a special judge to consider in the coming weeks. Shelby Circuit Judge Charles O’Connor is serving as hearing officer on the case and held a one-day hearing in January. He will now submit a report to the Indiana Supreme Court about whether any misconduct occurred and if he thinks a sanction is needed.

Both Disciplinary Commission attorney David Hughes and defense attorney Kevin McGoff appeared in Judge O’Connor’s courtroom Jan. 7 to make their arguments, with Brizzi and his former spokesman testifying on the stand. The submitted briefs outline the evidence and what each side argues should happen in the case.

While McGoff’s brief for the defense requests the disciplinary case be dismissed because no violations occurred, Hughes doesn’t make any recommendations, but clearly points to what he sees as violations of Indiana Rules of Professional Conduct by Brizzi in 2006 and 2008.

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 pair of cases – violations of Indiana Professional Conduct Rules 3.8(f) and Rule 3.6(a). One issue arose during an April 2008 news conference when Brizzi made statements about accused multi-state serial killer Bruce Mendenhall, and a second allegation involves a 2006 news release about the Indianapolis Hamilton Ave. slayings where seven people were killed and Brizzi initially sought the death penalty for the accused, Desmond Turner and James Stewart. 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."

Hughes said those comments were prejudicial against the individuals, and he insinuated the motivation behind the statements was part of a larger message the prosecutor was sending at a time when Indianapolis saw higher crime trends and, in 2006, Brizzi faced a heated election race.

In his brief, Hughes points to scant Indiana caselaw on pre-trial publicity in the context of the state’s attorney conduct rules. He points to Maryland and Michigan cases that he argues offer guidance for interpreting Brizzi’s statements to be extrajudicial comments and that actual prejudice isn’t required to show an impact on the proceedings. Hughes also argues that the true impact of the conduct in question can’t be known because both Stewart and Turner were found guilty on all charges and there’s no way to impugn the jury or question the trier-of-fact so long after the proceedings.

But McGoff counters those claims, saying that Brizzi was within his authority to inform the public about the decision-making process that the prosecutor’s office used for the charges and rest of the legal proceedings. His comments didn’t create any actual prejudice as national precedent has dictated is needed, McGoff contends, and what Brizzi said is protected by the safe harbor provisions within the conduct rules. However, he admits that little guidance has been outlined concerning what does and doesn’t fall into that category.

“Nevertheless, it is not always clear, from a practitioner’s standpoint, which statements fall into the safe harbor,” McGoff wrote. “For example, the rule fails to specify how much can be included in a statement of ‘the defense involved’ or ‘the result of any step in litigation’ – or whether the category of ‘public documents’ includes media reports.”

He relies on similar precedent from Indiana, including the prosecutor defamation case of Foster v. Pearcy, 387 N.E.2d 446, 448 (Ind. 1979), that have held a prosecutor is responsible for apprising the public of important case developments.

Once Judge O’Connor submits his report for consideration, the Indiana Supreme Court will make the final disciplinary decision. No timeline exists for that to happen. Penalties, if deemed necessary, could range anywhere from a private reprimand to a more severe sanction. Impacting the discipline could be the fact that Brizzi left office at the end of 2010 and is now in private practice.
 

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  1. What a fine article, thank you! I can testify firsthand and by detailed legal reports (at end of this note) as to the dire consequences of rejecting this truth from the fine article above: "The inclusion and expansion of this right [to jury] in Indiana’s Constitution is a clear reflection of our state’s intention to emphasize the importance of every Hoosier’s right to make their case in front of a jury of their peers." Over $20? Every Hoosier? Well then how about when your very vocation is on the line? How about instead of a jury of peers, one faces a bevy of political appointees, mini-czars, who care less about due process of the law than the real czars did? Instead of trial by jury, trial by ideological ordeal run by Orwellian agents? Well that is built into more than a few administrative law committees of the Ind S.Ct., and it is now being weaponized, as is revealed in articles posted at this ezine, to root out post moderns heresies like refusal to stand and pledge allegiance to all things politically correct. My career was burned at the stake for not so saluting, but I think I was just one of the early logs. Due, at least in part, to the removal of the jury from bar admission and bar discipline cases, many more fires will soon be lit. Perhaps one awaits you, dear heretic? Oh, at that Ind. article 12 plank about a remedy at law for every damage done ... ah, well, the founders evidently meant only for those damages done not by the government itself, rabid statists that they were. (Yes, that was sarcasm.) My written reports available here: Denied petition for cert (this time around): http://tinyurl.com/zdmawmw Denied petition for cert (from the 2009 denial and five year banishment): http://tinyurl.com/zcypybh Related, not written by me: Amicus brief: http://tinyurl.com/hvh7qgp

  2. Justice has finally been served. So glad that Dr. Ley can finally sleep peacefully at night knowing the truth has finally come to the surface.

  3. While this right is guaranteed by our Constitution, it has in recent years been hampered by insurance companies, i.e.; the practice of the plaintiff's own insurance company intervening in an action and filing a lien against any proceeds paid to their insured. In essence, causing an additional financial hurdle for a plaintiff to overcome at trial in terms of overall award. In a very real sense an injured party in exercise of their right to trial by jury may be the only party in a cause that would end up with zero compensation.

  4. Why in the world would someone need a person to correct a transcript when a realtime court reporter could provide them with a transcript (rough draft) immediately?

  5. This article proved very enlightening. Right ahead of sitting the LSAT for the first time, I felt a sense of relief that a score of 141 was admitted to an Indiana Law School and did well under unique circumstances. While my GPA is currently 3.91 I fear standardized testing and hope that I too will get a good enough grade for acceptance here at home. Thanks so much for this informative post.

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