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Commission urges discipline for former Marion County prosecutor

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The Indiana Supreme Court’s Disciplinary Commission wants the state's highest court to find former Marion County Prosecutor Carl Brizzi committed misconduct when he made statements about two high-profile cases he handled as prosecutor. The commission indicated that Brizzi should have known that his comments could impact public perception and deprive defendants of fair trials.

In a 44-page review petition filed with the Supreme Court this week, the commission reiterated its argument in the case against the former prosecutor. The focus is on whether the Indiana Rules of Professional Conduct require “actual prejudice” in proving an attorney’s statements go beyond what is allowed and damage a defendant’s ability to receive a fair trial.

The disciplinary commission filed a formal complaint against Brizzi in October 2009, accusing him of making statements that went beyond the public information purpose and prejudiced the cases. It argues that the statements amounted to violations of Indiana Professional Conduct Rules 3.8 and 3.6. In an April 2008 news conference, Brizzi made statements about accused multi-state serial killer Bruce Mendenhall, and a second allegation involves a 2006 news release about the Hamilton Avenue slayings in Indianapolis, where seven people were killed and Brizzi initially sought the death penalty. In that news release, Brizzi said the defendants “weren't going to let anyone or anything get in the way of what they believed to be an easy score.”

Shelby Circuit Judge Charles O’Connor held a disciplinary hearing in January to hear testimony, and commission attorney David Hughes said Brizzi’s comments were prejudicial against the individuals and that he should have known they could impact the fairness. He issued his hearing officer report in June and found in the former prosecutor’s favor. O’Connor recommended that disciplinary charges be dismissed on the grounds that the comments Brizzi made years ago fell under the safe harbor provision of the professional conduct rules and that pre-trial publicity didn’t actually prejudice the defendants.

The disciplinary commission disagrees, saying the hearing officer erroneously imposed a subjective standard on both rules and focused on whether the specific public statements, in hindsight, actually worked to prejudice the defendants.

“If Rule 3.6 were held to have no real practical application in a situation such as the case at bar where a considerable time elapsed between the date of the statements and the beginning of trial, then a prosecutor could control his professional discipline destiny by merely causing a considerable delay of the proceedings as to attempt to avoid ‘actual prejudice,’” the brief says. “The Commission is not saying that is what happened here in connection with the subject murder case, but these are very likely some of the reasons why Rule 3.6 is written the way it is, namely, one whereby the ‘reasonable likely’ standard is applied to offending comments as of the time they are made, and not by whether it can be proved that the prejudicial effect of them is still lingering in the public several years later at trial.”

Indiana has little caselaw on the subject of pre-trial publicity in the context of disciplinary rules. The disciplinary commission brief points to a 1999 Indiana Supreme Court case as well as other rulings from state and federal courts nationwide.

The justices have final say in the case and on what, if any, misconduct occurred and sanctions that might be imposed.

Brizzi left the prosecutor’s office at the end of 2010 and has opened his own solo practice in Indianapolis.
 

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  1. Indiana's seatbelt law is not punishable as a crime. It is an infraction. Apparently some of our Circuit judges have deemed settled law inapplicable if it fails to fit their litmus test of political correctness. Extrapolating to redefine terms of behavior in a violation of immigration law to the entire body of criminal law leaves a smorgasbord of opportunity for judicial mischief.

  2. I wonder if $10 diversions for failure to wear seat belts are considered moral turpitude in federal immigration law like they are under Indiana law? Anyone know?

  3. 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

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

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