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Prosecutor denies misconduct accusations

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Marion County Prosecutor Carl Brizzi denies that he violated any professional conduct rules in his handling of two high-profile murder cases, specifically in his written or spoken statements made when describing the crimes to the public.

On Monday, just three days before the prosecutor announced he won't be seeking a third term, Brizzi filed an answer to disciplinary charges lodged against him late last year by the Indiana Supreme Court's Disciplinary Commission.

In its formal complaint against Brizzi filed Oct. 1, the commission alleged that public comments the prosecutor made about two murder cases crossed the line and violated the attorney conduct rules. Brizzi's statements went beyond the public information purpose and prejudiced the pair of cases, according to the complaint, and amounted to violations of Indiana Professional Conduct Rules 3.8(f) and Rule 3.6(a).

Some of the comments came during an April 2008 news conference, where Brizzi made statements about the case against accused multi-state serial killer Bruce Mendenhall, alleged to have killed Carma Purpura in Indianapolis as well as other women in Tennessee and Alabama. A second allegation from the commission involves a 2006 news release about the city's Hamilton Avenue slayings, where seven people were brutally killed in Indianapolis and Brizzi initially sought the death penalty. A comment in that news release stated about the defendants, "They weren't going to let anyone or anything get in the way of what they believed to be an easy score."

"The above public statements of the Respondent ... were not necessary to inform the public of the nature and extent of the prosecutor's action and did not serve a legitimate law enforcement purpose, and the same were extrajudicial comments that had a substantial likelihood of heightening public condemnation ..." the complaint says.

Responding to the complaint, Brizzi's answer came after two previous extensions that delayed the case for about three months. He admits the general information about the underlying cases the statements were made about, but declined to admit or deny the specific claims cited in the complaint because the documents they were reportedly taken from were not included as part of the verified complaint.

In the seven-page answer, Brizzi's attorney Kevin McGoff at Bingham McHale in Indianapolis offered one legal defense for his client: "A lawyer is permitted to make an extrajudicial statement, as contemplated by Ind. Prof. Cond.R. 3.6(b), including but not limited to: (2) information contained in a public record and; (3) an investigation is in progress."

Indianapolis attorney William Hodes, an expert in lawyer ethics, said he found the case interesting, highlighting the gray area and tension between parts (a) and (b) of Rule 3.6. While unfamiliar with details of the Brizzi case, he noted that both sides appear to be making reasonable points in relation to the rules.

The rule applies to the public record, such as an indictment or probable cause document, not any of a prosecutor's own documents such as a press release.

"The charges sound like they're in the ballpark of what's off limits by the rules, and the defense seems solid," he said. "This could be a fairly close case, with legitimate arguments on both sides if you really look at the exceptions and qualifiers in the rules."

Bloomington law professor Charles Geyh at Indiana University Maurer School of Law - Bloomington agreed, saying the rules being examined here are "a thicket, owing to the First Amendment rights of the lawyer to speak and the difficulty of determining when there is a 'substantial likelihood' of material prejudice."

The Disciplinary Commission is now able to file a response to Brizzi's answer, and once that happens the Indiana Supreme Court can appoint a hearing officer to examine the evidence. Justices have final say over attorney disciplinary issues, and if it finds any misconduct the penalties could range from a private reprimand to a suspension or disbarment.

Admitted to practice in 1994, Brizzi was first elected prosecutor in 2002 and was re-elected in 2006. This is the first time Brizzi has faced any professional misconduct charges, according to his office. But whatever happens with this disciplinary action, it won't impact whether he remains prosecutor of the state's largest county past 2010 - Brizzi announced Thursday he wouldn't seek a third term in November's election. He hasn't announced what his future plans are.

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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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