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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. KUDOS to the Indiana Supreme Court for realizing that some bureacracies need to go to the stake. Recall what RWR said: "No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this earth!" NOW ... what next to this rare and inspiring chopping block? Well, the Commission on Gender and Race (but not religion!?!) is way overdue. And some other Board's could be cut with a positive for State and the reputation of the Indiana judiciary.

  2. During a visit where an informant with police wears audio and video, does the video necessary have to show hand to hand transaction of money and narcotics?

  3. I will agree with that as soon as law schools stop lying to prospective students about salaries and employment opportunities in the legal profession. There is no defense to the fraudulent numbers first year salaries they post to mislead people into going to law school.

  4. The sad thing is that no fish were thrown overboard The "greenhorn" who had never fished before those 5 days was interrogated for over 4 hours by 5 officers until his statement was illicited, "I don't want to go to prison....." The truth is that these fish were measured frozen off shore and thawed on shore. The FWC (state) officer did not know fish shrink, so the only reason that these fish could be bigger was a swap. There is no difference between a 19 1/2 fish or 19 3/4 fish, short fish is short fish, the ticket was written. In addition the FWC officer testified at trial, he does not measure fish in accordance with federal law. There was a document prepared by the FWC expert that said yes, fish shrink and if these had been measured correctly they averaged over 20 inches (offshore frozen). This was a smoke and mirror prosecution.

  5. I love this, Dave! Many congrats to you! We've come a long way from studying for the bar together! :)

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