To the editor:
As a longstanding member of the Indianapolis Bar and reader of the Indiana Lawyer, I was surprised and very disappointed to see an article appearing in Indiana Lawyer daily (Mon., April 5, 2010) – "Prosecutor ordered lenient deal for business partner’s client" – suggesting that a sentence reduction provided to Guilford Forney was based not solely on the merits. The assertion is completely baseless and the article contains false statements and insinuations that could easily have been avoided had reporter Cory Schouten properly researched the story by calling me or other knowledgeable people to check the facts.
Specifically, the Indiana Lawyer falsely reported:
“Defense attorney Bruce D. Donaldson, of Indianapolis-based Barnes & Thornburg LLP, last year persuaded Wyser to support a modification of the murder conviction justified by good behavior and an impressive educational track record while in prison. Forney was released on April 4, 2009, and is slated to serve two years on work release, followed by one year on probation.”
In fact, I did nothing to persuade Mr. Wyser or anyone else at the Prosecutor’s Office to support this sentence modification. To the contrary, this was solely the result of the family’s own efforts.
Specifically, Mr. Forney’s mother, Carlene Heeter, had a chance encounter with Carl Brizzi at a local restaurant and asked Mr. Brizzi if he would look into her son’s case. This led to a series of meetings and discussions within the prosecutor’s office that I was not invited to and took no part in, including at least one face-to-face meeting with Mr. Forney that I am aware of. Some time later Mrs. Heeter called me with the good news that the Prosecutor’s Office had decided to support a sentence modification request.
I had no involvement whatsoever in this entire process leading up to the prosecutor’s decision. I played no role in “persuading” the Prosecutor’s Office to support a sentence modification, and the story is false in stating otherwise. Rather, I have been friends of Mr. Forney’s family for nearly 10 years, and after the Prosecutor’s Office decided to support a sentence modification, Mrs. Heeter asked for my help documenting the agreement that had already been reached. I did so on a pro bono basis as a favor to the family, filing an appearance for Mr. Forney and appearing at the hearing before the judge to request approval of the sentence modification.
The insinuation that Prosecutor Brizzi was influenced by political contributions or his relationship with Barnes & Thornburg LLP is simply nonsense. Had this charge been made to me I could have disproven it easily. Specifically, nearly three years ago as a friend of Mr. Forney’s family I shared with Mr. Brizzi my personal views that Mr. Forney’s sentence was unduly harsh. My request went nowhere, and I was finally informed about a year later that the Prosecutor’s Office would not support a sentence modification. I had no further involvement with the Prosecutor’s Office on the matter until Mrs. Heeter contacted me with the good news that her own initiative with Prosecutor Brizzi had led to a favorable decision. Thus, it is beyond doubt that not only was my attempt at persuasion ineffective, but that Barnes & Thornburg’s supposed “relationship” with Mr. Brizzi was irrelevant to such decisions.
Thus, not only did the Indiana Lawyer get the facts wrong and mislead its readers, it made an unfounded and harmful insinuation about me and my law firm. Of course, in so doing, the Indiana Lawyer has also injured its own reputation and credibility as a fair and reliable source of information. In short, inaccurate and unfair reporting harms everyone.
Bruce D. Donaldson
Barnes & Thornburg