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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. 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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