Plaintiffs lose state court challenge to anti-conflict of interest law

July 28, 2016

Editor's note: This story has been updated.

The five northern Indiana police officers or firefighters who challenged a state law that would prohibit them from simultaneously also serving in elected office had their suit challenging the 2013 law dismissed Tuesday.

Matthew Claussen, Susan Pelfrey, Michael Opinker, Scott Rakos and Juda Parks alleged that I.C. 3-5-9-5 and 3-5-9-7(c) are unconstitutional and violate Article I, sections 9, 21, 23 and 24 of the Indiana Constitution. They are all elected members on various city and town councils in Lake County and were elected before Jan. 1, 2016. The plaintiffs also all are employees of the municipalities where they sat as council members.

The law in question, which took effect Jan. 1, 2013, but grandfathered plaintiffs in until Jan. 1, 2016, states that “an individual is considered to have resigned as a government employee when the individual assumes an elected office of the unit that employs the individual.” The plaintiffs filed suit last year in both state and federal court seeking an injunction against the law.

The federal courts dismissed their complaint, which was affirmed last month by the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Lake Circuit Judge George Paras granted a preliminary injunction against enforcement of the statutes on Dec. 30, 2015, but Lake Superior Judge William Davis, who was reassigned the case, issued an order Tuesday granting the state defendants’ motion to dismiss.

“The Plaintiffs (sic) choice to run for and assume office of their own volition is what impacted their employment,” Davis wrote. “Their jobs were not and would not be affected until and unless they made the voluntary decision to run for and assume elective office in the same city or town where they were employed. Plaintiffs have the burden to show these statutes are unconstitutional by overcoming the presumption of constitutionality that all statutes are clothed with. They have failed to meet their burden.”

The preliminary injunction is vacated and will be dissolved as of Saturday.

According to the Associated Press, all except Parks have resigned from their seats as a result of the ruling. Parks said he'd decide what to do over the weekend.



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