Former Marion County Prosecutor Carl Brizzi has been suspended from the practice of law in Indiana after the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission found he violated prohibitions against representing a client in a case in which he had a personal interest.
After previously being cleared from disciplinary charges related to a failure to disclose financial interests, Brizzi was charged with additional disciplinary violations related to a 2009 drug case.
In that case, former criminal defense attorney Paul Page, with whom Brizzi had a business relationship, was representing a person facing drug charges in Marion County, including a Class B felony, the highest charge. Page worked out a plea agreement with Brizzi’s deputies calling for the client to plead guilty to a Class C felony and forfeit $17,550 in cash. However, when Page brought the issue directly to Brizzi, the prosecutor instructed the deputies to allow the client to plead guilty to a Class D felony, with eligibility for alternate misdemeanor sentencing, and to return a portion of the seized cash.
“Intervention of this nature was highly unusual; the chief deputy indicated he had never previously been given such an instruction by Respondent in a narcotics case, and both deputies knew of no reason to reduce the lead charge to a Class D felony or to return any of the seized funds, as they felt the case against (the client) was very strong,” Chief Justice Loretta Rush wrote in a Wednesday disciplinary order.
Based on that situation, the disciplinary commission charged Brizzi with violating Professional Conduct Rule 1.7(a)(2), which prohibits representing a client if “there is a significant risk that the representation … will be materially limited by … a personal interest of the lawyer.” Brizzi then told the commission that his deputies had offered the client a Class D felony plea agreement prior to his involvement, so the commission charged him with a violation of Rule 8.4(c) for making a knowingly false statement. The hearing officer in Brizzi’s case agreed with the first charge, but found insufficient evidence to support the knowingly false statement accusation.
The hearing officer recommended a 30-day suspension for Brizzi, and the Indiana Supreme Court, excluding Justice Mark Massa, who did not participate, agreed. Thus, Brizzi will be suspended for 30 days effective May 1 with automatic reinstatement, provided there are no other suspensions in effect. The costs of the proceeding were also assessed against him.
The state’s high court has previously disciplined Brizzi, imposing a public reprimand against him five years ago for statements he made about a high-profile murder case. Additionally, in 2010, Massa, who was a Republican candidate for prosecutor at the time, called on Brizzi to resign.