Justices uphold fired DWD employee’s ban from executive branch employment

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A fired Indiana Department of Workforce Development employee who argued that she shouldn’t be sanctioned and barred from future executive branch employment because of her misuse of state property lost her appeal before the Indiana Supreme Court Thursday.

Patricia Sanchez won her argument in state court and before the Court of Appeals that the Indiana State Ethics Commission shouldn’t have sanctioned her in 2011. Sanchez, director of the Indiana Commission of Hispanic/Latino Affairs, a division of DWD, was fired in January 2010 after allegations of ghost employment and other misconduct came to light.

A state investigation discovered that Sanchez had in her possession at the time of her termination a television set, a luggage cart and a label maker that were all state property. A search warrant executed several months after her firing led to the discovery of those items in her possession, which led to criminal charges alleging theft and official misconduct.

But those charges were dropped after the judge suppressed the evidence found during the search, citing the information in the warrant was stale. A few months later, the Office of the Inspector General filed the ethics complaint against Sanchez, alleging she violated 42 Indiana Administrative Code 1-5-12 (2004), which provides a state employee shall not make use of state materials … or equipment for any purpose other than for official state business … .

The commission found probable cause to support the complaint and later found she committed the alleged violation. It barred her from future state executive branch employment.

Sanchez had claimed that double jeopardy barred the proceeding before the commission, but Justice Mark Massa quickly disposed of that claim. He also pointed out that the criminal court’s probable cause determination is not binding upon the commission. The search warrant alleged Sanchez had committed theft, whereas the probable cause affidavit for the ethics complaint alleged she had violated administrative code.

“Moreover, we also believe that, to a certain extent, the Ethics Commission is to State employees as the Disciplinary Commission is to members of the Indiana Bar,” Massa wrote, in that acquittal on criminal charges does not prohibit the filing of professional misconduct charges arising from the same conduct against attorneys.

Sanchez also had argued that the commission shouldn’t have considered the evidence resulting from the search – that was later thrown out – and without that evidence, the commission’s decision lacked adequate evidentiary support. Even assuming without deciding that the exclusionary rule does apply to administrative proceedings, there was enough other evidence to support the commission’s decision, Massa wrote.

Indiana State Ethics Commission, Office of Inspector General, and David Thomas, in his Official Capacity as Inspector General v. Patricia Sanchez, 49S02-1402-PL-80, is remanded for further proceedings.

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