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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. Mr. Levin says that the BMV engaged in misconduct--that the BMV (or, rather, someone in the BMV) knew Indiana motorists were being overcharged fees but did nothing to correct the situation. Such misconduct, whether engaged in by one individual or by a group, is called theft (defined as knowingly or intentionally exerting unauthorized control over the property of another person with the intent to deprive the other person of the property's value or use). Theft is a crime in Indiana (as it still is in most of the civilized world). One wonders, then, why there have been no criminal prosecutions of BMV officials for this theft? Government misconduct doesn't occur in a vacuum. An individual who works for or oversees a government agency is responsible for the misconduct. In this instance, somebody (or somebodies) with the BMV, at some time, knew Indiana motorists were being overcharged. What's more, this person (or these people), even after having the error of their ways pointed out to them, did nothing to fix the problem. Instead, the overcharges continued. Thus, the taxpayers of Indiana are also on the hook for the millions of dollars in attorneys fees (for both sides; the BMV didn't see fit to avail itself of the services of a lawyer employed by the state government) that had to be spent in order to finally convince the BMV that stealing money from Indiana motorists was a bad thing. Given that the BMV official(s) responsible for this crime continued their misconduct, covered it up, and never did anything until the agency reached an agreeable settlement, it seems the statute of limitations for prosecuting these folks has not yet run. I hope our Attorney General is paying attention to this fiasco and is seriously considering prosecution. Indiana, the state that works . . . for thieves.

  2. I'm glad that attorney Carl Hayes, who represented the BMV in this case, is able to say that his client "is pleased to have resolved the issue". Everyone makes mistakes, even bureaucratic behemoths like Indiana's BMV. So to some extent we need to be forgiving of such mistakes. But when those mistakes are going to cost Indiana taxpayers millions of dollars to rectify (because neither plaintiff's counsel nor Mr. Hayes gave freely of their services, and the BMV, being a state-funded agency, relies on taxpayer dollars to pay these attorneys their fees), the agency doesn't have a right to feel "pleased to have resolved the issue". One is left wondering why the BMV feels so pleased with this resolution? The magnitude of the agency's overcharges might suggest to some that, perhaps, these errors were more than mere oversight. Could this be why the agency is so "pleased" with this resolution? Will Indiana motorists ever be assured that the culture of incompetence (if not worse) that the BMV seems to have fostered is no longer the status quo? Or will even more "overcharges" and lawsuits result? It's fairly obvious who is really "pleased to have resolved the issue", and it's not Indiana's taxpayers who are on the hook for the legal fees generated in these cases.

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