COA voids Terre Haute's 2007 mayoral election

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

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."


Post a comment to this story

We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in Indiana Lawyer editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by
Subscribe to Indiana Lawyer
  1. I have an open CHINS case I failed a urine screen I have since got clean completed IOP classes now in after care passed home inspection my x sister in law has my children I still don't even have unsupervised when I have been clean for over 4 months my x sister wants to keep the lids for good n has my case working with her I just discovered n have proof that at one of my hearing dcs case worker stated in court to the judge that a screen was dirty which caused me not to have unsupervised this was at the beginning two weeks after my initial screen I thought the weed could have still been in my system was upset because they were suppose to check levels n see if it was going down since this was only a few weeks after initial instead they said dirty I recently requested all of my screens from redwood because I take prescriptions that will show up n I was having my doctor look at levels to verify that matched what I was prescripted because dcs case worker accused me of abuseing when I got my screens I found out that screen I took that dcs case worker stated in court to judge that caused me to not get granted unsupervised was actually negative what can I do about this this is a serious issue saying a parent failed a screen in court to judge when they didn't please advise

  2. I have a degree at law, recent MS in regulatory studies. Licensed in KS, admitted b4 S& 7th circuit, but not to Indiana bar due to political correctness. Blacklisted, nearly unemployable due to hostile state action. Big Idea: Headwinds can overcome, esp for those not within the contours of the bell curve, the Lego Movie happiness set forth above. That said, even without the blacklisting for holding ideas unacceptable to the Glorious State, I think the idea presented above that a law degree open many vistas other than being a galley slave to elitist lawyers is pretty much laughable. (Did the law professors of Indiana pay for this to be published?)

  3. Paul Hartman of Burbank, Oh who is helping Sister Fuller with this Con Artist Kevin Bart McCarthy scares Sister Joseph Therese, Patricia Ann Fuller very much that McCarthy will try and hurt Patricia Ann Fuller and Paul Hartman of Burbank, Oh or any member of his family. Sister is very, very scared, (YES, I AM) This McCarthy guy is a real, real CON MAN and crook. I try to totall flatter Kevin Bart McCARTHY to keep him from hurting my best friends in this world which are Carolyn Rose and Paul Hartman. I Live in total fear of this man Kevin Bart McCarthy and try to praise him as a good man to keep us ALL from his bad deeds. This man could easy have some one cause us a very bad disability. You have to PRAISAE in order TO PROTECT yourself. He lies and makes up stories about people and then tries to steal if THEY OWN THRU THE COURTS A SPECIAL DEVOTION TO PROTECT, EX> Our Lady of America DEVOTION. EVERYONE who reads this, PLEASE BE CAREFUL of Kevin Bart McCarthy of Indianapolis, IN My Phone No. IS 419-435-3838.

  4. Joe, you might want to do some reading on the fate of Hoosier whistleblowers before you get your expectations raised up.

  5. I had a hospital and dcs caseworker falsify reports that my child was born with drugs in her system. I filed a complaint with the Indiana department of health....and they found that the hospital falsified drug screens in their investigation. Then I filed a complaint with human health services in Washington DC...dcs drug Testing is unregulated and is indicating false positives...they are currently being investigated by human health services. Then I located an attorney and signed contracts one month ago to sue dcs and Anderson community hospital. Once the suit is filed I am taking out a loan against the suit and paying a law firm to file a writ of mandamus challenging the courts jurisdiction to invoke chins case against me. I also forwarded evidence to a u.s. senator who contacted hhs to push an investigation faster. Once the lawsuit is filed local news stations will be running coverage on the situation. Easy day....people will be losing their jobs soon...and judge pancol...who has attempted to cover up what has happened will also be in trouble. The drug testing is a kids for cash and federal funding situation.