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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. 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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