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Prosecutor wants gag order against exoneration lawyer

July 2, 2018

The Elkhart County prosecutor is accusing a Chicago attorney who is leading the charge to overturn a mentally disabled man’s conviction for an Elkhart murder of violating Indiana professional conduct rules, arguing comments the attorney made at a press conference were “extrajudicial statements” that could jeopardize his pro hac vice status.  

A hearing on prosecutor Vicki Becker’s motion for an injunction against Elliot Slosar, an attorney with the Chicago firm Loevy & Loevy, was scheduled for 9 a.m. Monday in Elkhart Superior Court III. Becker’s motion was filed June 19, six days after Slosar filed a petition to vacate Andrew Royer’s conviction in the 2002 murder of Helen Sailor. 

In her injunction request, Becker challenges statements Slosar made during a June 13 press conference about Royer’s wrongful conviction case. The petition to vacate Royer’s conviction, filed the same day as the press conference, alleges police misconduct led to Royer’s coerced conviction, multiple instances of perjury during the trial, and Royer’s eventual conviction.

Specifically, the petition claims two witnesses have since come forward and claimed statements they made at trial implicating Royer in Sailor’s death were lies spurred by police coercion and badgering. It also claims that Royer, who has been diagnosed with multiple mental disabilities, was fed the information that formed the basis of his allegedly false confession.

Additionally, according to the petition, a self-proclaimed latent fingerprint expert who testified during the trial later admitted he had never been certified as a latent print examiner. Becker, the deputy prosecutor who tried Royer in 2005, claimed she had been lied to.

That revelation led to the exoneration of Lana Canen, Royer’s co-defendant in the murder trial. Slosar said Royer’s case is built on similar claims showing he was wrongfully convicted. 

Slosar’s work on Royer’s case stems from his involvement with the Exoneration Project, a free wrongful conviction legal clinic at the University of Chicago Law School. Students in the Notre Dame Exoneration Project also worked on the case.

During the June press conference, Slosar references other cases the Exoneration Project has represented in the county, including the case of Keith Cooper, a man convicted in a 1996 shooting who has since been pardoned. According to the state’s request for an injunction, Slosar claimed there was a “systemic failure” in Elkhart that has led to an “epidemic that exists here where people are wrongfully convicted over periods of decades for crimes they didn’t commit because of police corruption, uninspiring defense counseling and an overzealous prosecutor… .” Looking specifically to Royer’s case, the request says Slosar called the conviction “an absolute fraud” based on “intentional misconduct.”

“Today we stand unified and call upon Vicki Becker to agree to vacate Andrew Royer’s wrongful conviction,” the state wrote in the injunction motion, quoting Slosar. “If she believes that Andy Royer’s confession is true, then she should retry him for murder and convince a jury whether Andy Royer’s confession is to be believed.”

Those statements and others were made in violation of Indiana Rule of Professional Conduct 3.6, Becker wrote in the injunction motion. That rule is titled “Trial Publicity” and holds that, “A lawyer who is participating or has participated in the investigation or litigation of a matter shall not make an extrajudicial statement that the lawyer knows or reasonably should know will be disseminated by means of public communication and will have a substantial likelihood of materially prejudicing an adjudicative proceeding in the matter… .”

 Slosar has a pro hac vice request to practice law in Indiana pending for Royer’s case. Becker’s motion calls for Slosar to be required to review the professional conduct and admission and discipline rules before that request is granted. Aside from Slosar, Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law professor Frances Watson is listed as counsel for Royer in his petition.

“…(A)lthough Mr. Slosar may not, technically, be an Indiana attorney, at this time, he is currently acting as same and his conduct should be governed by the Indiana Rules of Professional Conduct as his extrajudicial comments appear to be intended to not only influence an elected official, namely the Prosecuting Attorney, but also to inflame public opinion with flamboyant statements and commentary on evidence that Mr. Slosar knows, or should know, would be inadmissible in an Indiana court of law as it is irrelevant, scientifically unreliable, lacking authenticity and foundation, and is otherwise misleading information,” Becker wrote.

When first contacted by the Indiana Lawyer about Royer’s petition in June, Becker said she was “not willing to engage in the substantive litigation of this case in the media.”

“Accordingly, we are not going to make any comments at this time nor ‘respond to any allegations’ as I am more interested in handling a legal case in a legal forum, not in the media – which is not only inappropriate, it is unethical,” the prosecutor wrote in a June 18 email. “I value my professional licensure far too much to participate in an agenda driven propaganda battle.”

At the time of Royer’s 2005 trial, Becker was working as a deputy prosecutor under then-Elkhart County Prosecutor Curtis Hill. A spokesman for Hill, now Indiana Attorney General, did not respond to a request for comment on the wrongful conviction case. Slosar also did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment on Royer’s petition or the injunction motion.

 

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