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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. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  2. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  3. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  4. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

  5. I am compelled to announce that I am not posting under any Smith monikers here. That said, the post below does have a certain ring to it that sounds familiar to me: http://www.catholicnewworld.com/cnwonline/2014/0907/cardinal.aspx

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