Justices asked to take Terre Haute mayor case

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The Indiana Supreme Court is being asked to consider the role a federal law plays in deciding who is Terre Haute's current mayor and whether a special election is needed.

In a rare but not unprecedented move, both the winning and losing sides in the ongoing appeal want the state's highest court to take the case, which presents an issue of first impression that will not only determine who is Terre Haute's mayor but also has statewide implications for future Hoosier elections.

The transfer petitions filed Friday and Monday in Kevin D. Burke v. Duke Bennett, No. 84A01-0801-CV-2 follow a 2-1 decision on Nov. 12 from the Court of Appeals, which declared Terre Haute Mayor Duke Bennett was ineligible for that post because the federal Hatch Act had prevented him from being a candidate in 2007 or assuming office this year. The appellate court ordered a special election to resolve the dispute.

Burke and Duke Bennett have argued about this for more than a year. In November 2007, Bennett beat incumbent Burke for the mayor's job and the ousted mayor filed a challenge based on the federal law known as the Little Hatch Act, which limits political activity of employees of some non-profit groups that receive federal funding. Before taking office Jan. 1, Bennett was the operations director for Hamilton Center Inc., which receives federal funding for its Early Head Start program. Vigo Circuit-Superior Judge David Bolk ruled late last year that Bennett was subject to the Hatch Act, but that state law didn't prevent him from taking office; the appellate court didn't agree and paved the way for both parties to now seek final word from the Indiana Supreme Court.

On Friday, former mayor Burke's legal team - led by Indianapolis attorney Ed DeLaney of DeLaney & DeLaney - filed a transfer petition asking the court to reverse portions of the lower appellate court's decision vacating Bennett's win so that Burke would be declared the winner instead. Transfer should be granted because it asks for reconsideration of the high court's precedent, the petition says.

Specifically, the case asks the court to consider whether the Indiana Constitution prohibits the application of Indiana Code 3-12-8-17(c), which requires the court to certify as elected the qualified candidate who receives the most votes when the candidate who receives the highest overall number of votes is subsequently disqualified in a post-election contest.

Bennett's legal team - led by Terre Haute attorney Terry Modesitt and Bose McKinney & Evans attorneys Bryan Babb and George Patton of Indianapolis- filed its own transfer petition Monday, the final day to do so, also asking the justices to overturn portions of the ruling.

"The resulting rule of law (from the Court of Appeals decision) is incapable of fair, prospective application and creates unsound public policy for Hoosiers, who will be unnecessarily dissuaded from running for state and local political offices," Bennett's petition says. "This Court should chart Indiana a new course and adopt a fair and predictable standard that would limit the Election Contest Statute's reach to those employees at private non-profits and state agencies, who plan, develop, coordinate, or otherwise implement the federally-funded program."

The Bennett team argues that deciding not to take the case and leaving the Court of Appeals' ruling in place would go against caselaw. Both appellate courts have enforced Indiana's common law rule of constitutional dimension that an election loser can't succeed on a post-election contest if the alleged ineligibility was unknown to voters at election time.

A common request from both Burke and Bennett is for justices to vacate the Court of Appeals' determination that a special election be held. However, the team notes that if a new election is to be held, the Supreme Court must limit it to just those two candidates - Bennett had resigned from Hamilton Center following the original court challenge, so he's no longer subject to the Little Hatch Act at issue here and would be presumably be eligible to run.

Both sides now have 23 days to respond to the transfer petitions before the court considers whether to take the case.


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  1. Great observation Smith. By my lights, speaking personally, they already have. They counted my religious perspective in a pro-life context as a symptom of mental illness and then violated all semblance of due process to banish me for life from the Indiana bar. The headline reveals the truth of the Hoosier elite's animus. Details here: Denied 2016 petition for cert (this time around): (“2016Pet”) Amicus brief 2016: (“2016Amici”) As many may recall, I was banned for five years for failing to "repent" of my religious views on life and the law when a bar examiner demanded it of me, resulting in a time out to reconsider my "clinging." The time out did not work, so now I am banned for life. Here is the five year time out order: Denied 2010 petition for cert (from the 2009 denial and five year banishment): (“2010Pet”) Read this quickly if you are going to read it, the elites will likely demand it be pulled down or pile comments on to bury it. (As they have buried me.)

  2. if the proabortion zealots and intolerant secularist anti-religious bigots keep on shutting down every hint of religious observance in american society, or attacking every ounce of respect that the state may have left for it, they may just break off their teeth.

  3. "drug dealers and traffickers need to be locked up". "we cannot afford just to continue to build prisons". "drug abuse is strangling many families and communities". "establishing more treatment and prevention programs will also be priorities". Seems to be what politicians have been saying for at least three decades now. If these are the most original thoughts these two have on the issues of drug trafficking and drug abuse, then we're no closer to solving the problem than we were back in the 90s when crack cocaine was the epidemic. We really need to begin demanding more original thought from those we elect to office. We also need to begin to accept that each of us is part of the solution to a problem that government cannot solve.

  4. What is with the bias exclusion of the only candidate that made sense, Rex Bell? The Democrat and Republican Party have created this problem, why on earth would anyone believe they are able to fix it without pushing government into matters it doesn't belong?

  5. This is what happens when daddy hands over a business to his moron son and thinks that everything will be ok. this bankruptcy is nothing more than Gary pulling the strings to never pay the creditors that he and his son have ripped off. they are scum and they know it.