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COA voids Terre Haute's 2007 mayoral election

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The man elected Terre Haute's mayor was ineligible because of federal law to become a candidate or assume office, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled today on an issue of first impression. As a result, a special election is needed to fill the vacancy.

In a divided 2-1 decision in Kevin D. Burke v. Duke Bennett, No. 84A01-0801-CV-2, the majority in a 59-page opinion reversed a lower court ruling that had held mayoral candidate Duke Bennett could take office as mayor despite the applicability of federal law questioning his eligibility.

In November 2007, Bennett beat incumbent Kevin Burke for mayor. Burke then challenged his newly elected opponent based on the Hatch Act, which limits political activity of employees of some non-profit groups that receive federal funding. Before taking office Jan. 1, Bennett was the operations director for Hamilton Center Inc., which receives federal funding for its Early Head Start program. The two have been battling over the mayoral post since late last year when Vigo Circuit Judge David Bolk ruled that Bennett is subject to the Hatch Act but that state law didn't prevent him from taking office.

A Court of Appeals majority of authoring Judge Elaine Brown and Judge Carr Darden disagreed, finding Bennett was subject to what's known as the Little Hatch Act because he was an "officer or employee" at the Hamilton Center and because his principal employment was in connection with an activity financed in whole or in part by U.S. loans or grants. That meant that the applicability of that federal law disqualified Bennett from becoming a partisan candidate for mayor or assuming office, the court wrote.

"Because Burke has standing to contest the election and Bennett is ineligible, we conclude that a vacancy exists," she wrote. "In light of this conclusion, we direct the parties' attention to Ind. Code Sections 3-10-8, which govern special elections."

Judge Edward Najam dissented in his own 13-page opinion, writing that Indiana Supreme Court caselaw in Oviatt v. Behme, 238 Ind. 69, 147 N.E. 2d 897 (1958) is controlling and holds that an action can only be maintained under state statute if the losing candidate can demonstrate that voters knew of the winning candidate's ineligibility at the time of the election. That wasn't the case here and the trial court correctly ruled on that in favor of Bennett, Judge Najam wrote.

"The analytical flaw in the majority opinion is that it relies on Bennett's ineligibility rather than on the determination that, as a matter of law, Burke cannot prevail in his post-election contest," he wrote. "The majority is correct in holding that, given Oviatt, it is incumbent upon candidates to have issues of eligibility brought to the voters' attention prior to the election. But that is precisely why I am obliged to dissent from the majority opinion. In its operation and effect, the rule in Oviatt is akin to a rule of estoppel. The majority opinion nullifies the operation and effect of Oviatt."

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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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