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Convicted ex-coroner hits Brizzi with legal malpractice suit

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Former Hancock County coroner Tamara Vangundy paid for negligent legal advice on her plea deal in a drunken-driving and official-misconduct case that ended her career as an elected official, she alleges in a legal malpractice claim filed against former Marion County Prosecutor Carl Brizzi.

The complaint also blames Vangundy’s drunken-driving arrest on “sleep driving” induced after she took her first-ever dose of Ambien.

The suit filed May 16 in Marion Superior Court claims Vangundy paid Brizzi a flat fee of $10,000 for advice regarding election law and the implications for a public official pleading guilty to a felony.

“Carl Brizzi’s advice that Ms. Vangundy should plead guilty to official misconduct, a Class D felony, but receive misdemeanor sentencing, because she would be able to continue to serve as Hancock County coroner was flat wrong and caused Ms. Vangundy to forever lose her position as Hancock County coroner,” according to the complaint.

“After the plea agreement was accepted by the court, the Hancock County prosecutor emailed Carl Brizzi and threatened to prosecute Ms. Vangundy for impersonation of a public servant if she took a single coroner call from that day forward,” according to the complaint. Vangundy is represented by Cohen & Malad LLP.

Brizzi said Thursday he had not seen the complaint. “Attorney-client privilege is probably still in place,” he said. “I’d better wait and let it all sort of come out in due course. … Situations like this, discretion is probably the best route.”

In the complaint, Vangundy claims she was distraught after assisting in the autopsy of a teenage girl who was near the same age as her daughter. She shared wine with a friend afterward and later took the sleep aid Ambien “after her emotionally draining day.”  

Later that day, May 2, 2012, the coroner’s office was notified of a suspected suicide of a New Palestine teenager. Vangundy’s arrest for drunken driving when she arrived at the scene intoxicated made headlines, and a day later she was charged with misdemeanor operating a vehicle while intoxicated, misdemeanor operating a vehicle with an ACE of 0.15, and the felony official misconduct count.

“At some time after instructing the deputy coroner to handle the death call, Ms. Vangundy, while inside her home, blacked out or had a ‘sleep driving’ and amnesic incident,” the complaint says. “She left the residence leaving the door to her home open, got in her Jeep, and went to the scene of the death.”

A few days later, she won the Republican primary and had been slated to run unopposed for re-election last November.

Vangundy was advised to plead guilty to the charges, which she did Aug. 22. “When the judge read the plea of guilty to the felony charge, Ms. Vangundy specifically looked at Carl Brizzi and asked again, ‘Am I supposed to say yes to that?’” the complaint alleges.

“Brizzi advised Ms. Vangundy to say yes and to plea and again assured her that her position as Hancock County coroner was fine,” according to the complaint. Brizzi later told reporters that Vangundy wasn’t a convicted felon, but reversed himself that evening, telling the Greenfield Daily Reporter that Vangundy’s banishment from office was something attorneys on both sides hadn’t realized. “So shame on us for not considering it. There’s no excuse for it. It was a mistake, for sure,” Brizzi told the Daily Reporter.

The complaint alleges that when Vangundy asked for a refund over the bad advice, “Brizzi laughed and refused.” Vangundy claims her damages include the $10,000 fee, interest on a loan taken to pay the fee, lost salary and benefits, emotional pain and suffering, attorney fees and other relief.

“It is hard to believe that Mr. Brizzi would admit not even reading the statute he was hired to read and then (refuse) to give back the $10,000 he charged his client,” Cohen & Malad managing partner Irwin Levin said in a statement. “Ms. Vangundy was entitled to competent legal advice and Mr. Brizzi didn't give it. Ms. Vangundy's world has been turned upside down.”

Tamara Vangundy v. Carl J. Brizzi and Carl Brizzi & Associates, 49D05-1305-PL-20824, was filed in the court of Marion Superior Judge Robert Altice Jr., who on Thursday recused himself for unspecified reasons. The matter was pending random reassignment to a new judge Thursday afternoon.

The suit is the latest in a string of troubles for the embattled former prosecutor. Earlier this month, former deputy prosecutor David Wyser agreed to plead guilty to a federal charge of bribery for his role in the early release of a woman convicted in a murder-for-hire scheme. Brizzi is a target of on ongoing FBI investigation but has not been charged, sources told Indiana Lawyer’s sister publication, Indianapolis Business Journal. Brizzi has denied wrongdoing.

Brizzi, elected prosecutor in 2002 and 2006, chose not to seek re-election in 2010. He was reprimanded by the Indiana Supreme Court in March 2012 for prejudicial statements he made while prosecuting a murder case in 2008. Admitted to the bar in 1994, Brizzi’s license status on the Indiana Roll of Attorneys is active in good standing.
 

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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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