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Brizzi regrets perception damage

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If he had it to do over again, Marion County Prosecutor Carl Brizzi said he wouldn't get involved in a real estate deal with a local criminal defense attorney.

The eight-year prosecutor in the state's largest county spoke with Indiana Lawyer today on the heels of recent reports that have damaged his reputation and hampered his public perception. He denied doing anything illegal or unethical, but said he'd take a different path if there was a chance.

"In hindsight, even if I knew there was nothing illegal or unethical being done, if I had to do it all over I wouldn't do it again," Brizzi said. "This creates an appearance issue that's been distracting, and now I have to disprove a negative. It's hard to recover from that. It's not worth it."

In its April 14-27, 2010, edition Indiana Lawyer reported on the controversy, exploring how the state's legal community is watching and learning from what's unfolding in Marion County.

The issues surfaced in an April 3 article in the Indianapolis Business Journal, which is owned by the parent company of Indiana Lawyer. IBJ reported first that Brizzi intervened last year in a drug case to offer a reduced sentence over objections from law enforcement officers and his own deputy prosecutor. He insisted on a plea deal for accused drug dealer Joseph Mobareki that would be acceptable to Indianapolis criminal defense attorney Paul J. Page. Page is a lawyer at Indianapolis-based Baker Pittman & Page and a Brizzi friend, campaign contributor, and business partner on an Elkhart County real estate deal. According to the IBJ report, Brizzi also ordered his staff to return $10,000 in cash seized from Mobareki, and the money was routed through Page.

Other issues involving Brizzi's past campaign donations have been raised in recent months, raising questions about the general role of attorneys contributing to the political campaigns of judges and prosecutors they might appear before or argue against in court.

While not discussing the merits, other prosecutors and attorneys throughout Indiana said the issues are distracting and are a concern for the entire legal community.

Brizzi admits this situation is a public-perception nightmare, and he's devoted to repairing his own reputation and that of the prosecutor's office. He is in the final months of his second term and isn't running for re-election. So far, Brizzi has rejected calls for his early resignation because of the controversy.

With 45,000 cases a year, Brizzi understands that people will be looking at every case for possible questions or issues. That forces him to be even more careful in how he operates and navigates issues he hasn't faced before, he said.

"This is not a cookie-cutter operation, but I have to take extra care in every case that comes before this office," he said. "You can't put that genie back in the bottle."

Brizzi also said that if he were running again, he wouldn't accept campaign contributions from any defense attorneys who might be in the opposing counsel position at some point. He had to raise about $3 million during his last campaign and some of those contributions came from the defense bar in Marion County, he said.

"If prosecutors and judges are going to accept contributions from those in their courts or legal communities, we have to be able to apply that consistently," he said. "If there's the potential for a question, then it makes sense to not accept them."

A larger issue that perhaps warrants consideration from the Indiana General Assembly concerns state statutes that should be tweaked on the issue of campaign contributions in the legal community. The Indianapolis Bar Association in February created a task force to study the issue of campaign contributions and public confidence within the legal system. The IBA exploration follows a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision last year in Caperton v. A.T. Massey Coal Co., 129 S. Ct. 2252 (2009) that dealt with judicial campaign contributions and subsequent recusals.

At the same time, Brizzi wondered if it might be time to revisit an issue that's been addressed by Indiana State Bar Association advisory ethical opinion No. 2 from 1982, which says there's no per se prohibition of business ventures between prosecutors and defense attorneys.

But there's a line that must be drawn and Brizzi said he doesn't know where that line should be.

"I don't think it's fair to say that elected prosecutors shouldn't be allowed (to be involved in) any other outside business," he said. "What about owning stock or rental property? Where's the line?"

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  1. I like the concept. Seems like a good idea and really inexpensive to manage.

  2. I don't agree that this is an extreme case. There are more of these people than you realize - people that are vindictive and/or with psychological issues have clogged the system with baseless suits that are costly to the defendant and to taxpayers. Restricting repeat offenders from further abusing the system is not akin to restricting their freedon, but to protecting their victims, and the court system, from allowing them unfettered access. From the Supreme Court opinion "he has burdened the opposing party and the courts of this state at every level with massive, confusing, disorganized, defective, repetitive, and often meritless filings."

  3. So, if you cry wolf one too many times courts may "restrict" your ability to pursue legal action? Also, why is document production equated with wealth? Anyone can "produce probably tens of thousands of pages of filings" if they have a public library card. I understand this is an extreme case, but our Supreme Court really got this one wrong.

  4. He called our nation a nation of cowards because we didn't want to talk about race. That was a cheap shot coming from the top cop. The man who decides who gets the federal government indicts. Wow. Not a gentleman if that is the measure. More importantly, this insult delivered as we all understand, to white people-- without him or anybody needing to explain that is precisely what he meant-- but this is an insult to timid white persons who fear the government and don't want to say anything about race for fear of being accused a racist. With all the legal heat that can come down on somebody if they say something which can be construed by a prosecutor like Mr Holder as racist, is it any wonder white people-- that's who he meant obviously-- is there any surprise that white people don't want to talk about race? And as lawyers we have even less freedom lest our remarks be considered violations of the rules. Mr Holder also demonstrated his bias by publically visiting with the family of the young man who was killed by a police offering in the line of duty, which was a very strong indicator of bias agains the offer who is under investigation, and was a failure to lead properly by letting his investigators do their job without him predetermining the proper outcome. He also has potentially biased the jury pool. All in all this worsens race relations by feeding into the perception shared by whites as well as blacks that justice will not be impartial. I will say this much, I do not blame Obama for all of HOlder's missteps. Obama has done a lot of things to stay above the fray and try and be a leader for all Americans. Maybe he should have reigned Holder in some but Obama's got his hands full with other problelms. Oh did I mention HOlder is a bank crony who will probably get a job in a silkstocking law firm working for millions of bucks a year defending bankers whom he didn't have the integrity or courage to hold to account for their acts of fraud on the United States, other financial institutions, and the people. His tenure will be regarded by history as a failure of leadership at one of the most important jobs in our nation. Finally and most importantly besides him insulting the public and letting off the big financial cheats, he has been at the forefront of over-prosecuting the secrecy laws to punish whistleblowers and chill free speech. What has Holder done to vindicate the rights of privacy of the American public against the illegal snooping of the NSA? He could have charged NSA personnel with violations of law for their warrantless wiretapping which has been done millions of times and instead he did not persecute a single soul. That is a defalcation of historical proportions and it signals to the public that the government DOJ under him was not willing to do a damn thing to protect the public against the rapid growth of the illegal surveillance state. Who else could have done this? Nobody. And for that omission Obama deserves the blame too. Here were are sliding into a police state and Eric Holder made it go all the faster.

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