Expelled county councilman loses appeal

A former Starke County Council member who was expelled from public office for allegedly making bigoted statements while attending the Association of Indiana Counties conference in Indianapolis lost his attempt to regain his seat after the Indiana Court of Appeals found his arguments challenging his expulsion were “incomprehensible.”

Just weeks after winning the November 2018 election to the Starke County Council, Thomas DeCola attended the Association of Indiana Counties conference in December 2018. According to two witness statements and a police report presented to the council, DeCola approached a table of individuals at the conference and, after introducing himself as a councilman from Starke County, struck up a conversation.

He was reported to have said that “he was an active member of the Aryan Brotherhood and that now ‘n[*****]s and Jews’ were no longer going to be allowed in Starke County. He went on to describe how he used to torture and abuse ‘n[*****]s and Jews’ in an underground bunker.”

When the individuals move to another table, DeCola followed them and continued talking in an offensive manner.

The council considered and discussed DeCola’s behavior over the course of a couple of meetings. DeCola did not specifically deny the allegations, but he did state “that his best response is to follow the rules of procedure and that is all he has to say.”

Eventually, the council voted 5-1 on a motion to expel DeCola.

In April 2019, DeCola filed a complaint against the council in Starke Circuit Court., alleging the “cause of action of wrongful expulsion” and seeking reinstatement on the council.

Initially the Marshall Superior Court, where the case was transferred, allowed DeCola’s “wrongful expulsion” claim to proceed. But after the council filed a motion to reconsider, the trial court dismissed all of DeCola’s claims.

DeCola, representing himself, appealed.

However, the Court of Appeals found DeCola waived all his arguments in Thomas A. DeCola v. Starke County Council, 21A-MI-120, a memorandum decision handed down Wednesday.

The appellate panel provided an excerpt from DeCola’s brief that discussed the “‘magic language’ doctrine.” The COA noted DeCola’s brief was incomprehensible and did not explain how the precedent he cited supported his contentions.

Writing for the Court, Judge Melissa May concluded, “DeCola failed to support his arguments on appeal with cogent reasoning and citations to authority as required by Appellate Rule 46. Therefore, his arguments are waived, and we affirm the trial court.”

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