A hearing officer recommends that disciplinary charges be dismissed against ex-Marion County Prosecutor Carl Brizzi, and now it’s up to the Indiana Supreme Court to consider the case.
Issuing a final report late June 28, Shelby Circuit Judge Charles O’Connor found in favor of the former prosecutor who faces professional conduct charges because of public statements he made years ago about two high-profile murder cases. The hearing officer heard testimony in early January and took the case under advisement for nearly six months before reaching a decision and issuing his report.
The commission filed a formal complaint against Brizzi in October 2009, accusing him of making statements that went beyond the public information purpose and prejudiced the pair of cases and amounted to violations of Indiana Professional Conduct Rules 3.8 and Rule 3.6. One issue came with an April 2008 news conference where Brizzi made statements about accused multi-state serial killer Bruce Mendenhall, and a second allegation involves a 2006 news release about the Hamilton Avenue slayings in Indianapolis, where seven people were killed and Brizzi initially sought the death penalty. A comment in that news release said the defendants “weren't going to let anyone or anything get in the way of what they believed to be an easy score.”
Arguing for the Disciplinary Commission, attorney David Hughes said those comments were prejudicial against the individuals and insinuated the motivation behind the statements was part of a larger message the prosecutor was sending at a time when Indianapolis saw higher crime trends and, in 2006, he faced a heated election race.
That question is one that hasn’t been addressed in Indiana, and if answered it could have statewide impact for attorneys in talking publicly about their cases and what does or does not amount to misconduct.
Judge O’Connor wrote in his report that Brizzi’s statements were available through public record and fall under the safe harbor provision in Rule 3.6(b), and that pre-trial publicly didn’t affect the court’s ability to select unbiased jurors in the Hamilton Avenue slaying cases. The Disciplinary Commission failed to introduce clear and convincing evidence that Brizzi knew or should have known the statements made would have substantial likelihood of materially prejudicing any proceedings, the judge’s report says.
Disciplinary Commission Executive Secretary G. Michael Witte said his office is reviewing the report and has 30 days to file a petition for review with the state Supreme Court.
The justices have final say in the case and what, if any, misconduct might have occurred and any sanctions that might be necessary. The court doesn’t have any timeline on that decision once the parties submit all their briefs.