Hearing officer: prosecutor should get public reprimand

Back to TopE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

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.


Sponsored by
Subscribe to Indiana Lawyer
  1. I think the cops are doing a great job locking up criminals. The Murder rates in the inner cities are skyrocketing and you think that too any people are being incarcerated. Maybe we need to lock up more of them. We have the ACLU, BLM, NAACP, Civil right Division of the DOJ, the innocent Project etc. We have court system with an appeal process that can go on for years, with attorneys supplied by the government. I'm confused as to how that translates into the idea that the defendants are not being represented properly. Maybe the attorneys need to do more Pro-Bono work

  2. We do not have 10% of our population (which would mean about 32 million) incarcerated. It's closer to 2%.

  3. If a class action suit or other manner of retribution is possible, count me in. I have email and voicemail from the man. He colluded with opposing counsel, I am certain. My case was damaged so severely it nearly lost me everything and I am still paying dearly.

  4. There's probably a lot of blame that can be cast around for Indiana Tech's abysmal bar passage rate this last February. The folks who decided that Indiana, a state with roughly 16,000 to 18,000 attorneys, needs a fifth law school need to question the motives that drove their support of this project. Others, who have been "strong supporters" of the law school, should likewise ask themselves why they believe this institution should be supported. Is it because it fills some real need in the state? Or is it, instead, nothing more than a resume builder for those who teach there part-time? And others who make excuses for the students' poor performance, especially those who offer nothing more than conspiracy theories to back up their claims--who are they helping? What evidence do they have to support their posturing? Ultimately, though, like most everything in life, whether one succeeds or fails is entirely within one's own hands. At least one student from Indiana Tech proved this when he/she took and passed the February bar. A second Indiana Tech student proved this when they took the bar in another state and passed. As for the remaining 9 who took the bar and didn't pass (apparently, one of the students successfully appealed his/her original score), it's now up to them (and nobody else) to ensure that they pass on their second attempt. These folks should feel no shame; many currently successful practicing attorneys failed the bar exam on their first try. These same attorneys picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and got back to the rigorous study needed to ensure they would pass on their second go 'round. This is what the Indiana Tech students who didn't pass the first time need to do. Of course, none of this answers such questions as whether Indiana Tech should be accredited by the ABA, whether the school should keep its doors open, or, most importantly, whether it should have even opened its doors in the first place. Those who promoted the idea of a fifth law school in Indiana need to do a lot of soul-searching regarding their decisions. These same people should never be allowed, again, to have a say about the future of legal education in this state or anywhere else. Indiana already has four law schools. That's probably one more than it really needs. But it's more than enough.

  5. This man Steve Hubbard goes on any online post or forum he can find and tries to push his company. He said court reporters would be obsolete a few years ago, yet here we are. How does he have time to search out every single post about court reporters and even spy in private court reporting forums if his company is so successful???? Dude, get a life. And back to what this post was about, I agree that some national firms cause a huge problem.