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Hearing officer: prosecutor should get public reprimand

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Delaware County Prosecutor Mark McKinney should be publicly reprimanded for violating four professional conduct rules in his handling of civil forfeiture matters as a private attorney while simultaneously prosecuting those same criminal defendants, according to hearing officer appointed by the Indiana Supreme Court.

But the state’s highest court makes any final decision on whether misconduct occurred and if any sanctions should be imposed, and that now presents a novel situation in itself that creates even more question about what happens next.

The hearing officer on this disciplinary action is Boone Circuit Judge Steven H. David, who is the state’s newest justice who takes the bench in mid-October. Reviewing and recommending sanctions on this case Sept. 29 culminates his role on a case that began long before he thought of applying for the high court, but it’s one of his final actions on the bench before becoming a justice and it means he’ll likely not participate in the final disciplinary decision.

With the Indiana Supreme Court last year rejecting an agreement for a 90-day suspension on the grounds it was too lenient, and only four justices considering the matter once it gets to the court, the final result on this longstanding dispute is anything but clear.

Before becoming prosecutor in January 2007, McKinney was a deputy prosecutor beginning in 1995 and worked with the now-disassembled Muncie-Delaware Drug Task Force. He was personally involved as a deputy prosecutor in drug investigations on many of the resulting criminal cases, and from 2000 to 2007 he also received thousands of dollars in compensation from private forfeiture settlements in his role as a private attorney from those criminal defendants being prosecuted. This Disciplinary Commission action came in 2009, following a previous one back in 1999 where no action was taken.

After a new mayor launched an inquiry into this in 2008, McKinney ultimately stopped the practice.

A special prosecutor last year cleared McKinney of any criminal wrongdoing in his handling of drug forfeiture cases, and in his findings Judge David as hearing officer clearly said all money was accounted for and that there’s no evidence McKinney ever agreed to soften charges or reduce plea agreements to defendants in exchange for forfeiture money or action.

But Judge David found the Disciplinary Commission proved that the prosecutor violated the four Indiana Rules of Professional Conduct - 1.7(b), 1.7(a)(2), 1.8(I), and 8.4(d). The allegations are that his profiting in drug forfeiture cases – his receiving 25 percent of the money forfeited by or seized from drug defendants per fee agreements -- impeded the state's criminal cases that he was involved in prosecuting.

“From any non-lawyers perspective, it is reasonable to conclude that the ethical propriety of the civil forfeiture methodology employed in Delaware County was clearly in question almost from its inception,” Judge David wrote in his report, in which found both mitigators and aggravators.

He found as mitigators the lack of any quid pro quo, and that McKinney has no prior disciplinary history and has held leadership roles in the Indiana State Bar Association and Indiana Continuing Legal Education Foundation’s governing board, as well as in several other community organizations. He also determined the significant decade-long lapse in investigating and prosecuting this between 1999 and 2008 was a mitigating factor. But aggravators are that McKinney never investigated this issue but essentially swept it under the rug for so long.

“He was either convinced he was right and was not worried about the concerns of others or he failed to understand and appreciate and/or acknowledge the Indiana Rules of Professional Responsibility,” Judge David wrote. “Had he acted more pro-actively, the practice complained of would have ended long before it did.”

In recommending a penalty for the state justices to consider, Judge David wrote that a public reprimand is warranted. He also said, “In addition, it is also recommended that the practice that was common in Delaware County, as evidenced in this matter, be soundly denounced and that some entity (mostly likely IPAC) undertake efforts (to the extent IPAC has not already taken the lead on this matter) to insure that this practice is not occurring anywhere else.”

Both sides now have a chance to file briefs with the Supreme Court to review the matter entirely or to focus on the sanction, which may be an issue since the court last year rejected an agreement between both sides that called for a 90-day suspension. If the court finds any misconduct occurred and any sanction is necessary, it will be up to those participating justices to determine what the penalty should be.
 

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  1. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  2. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  3. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

  4. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

  5. "No one is safe when the Legislature is in session."

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