Saturday, January 05, 2008

Hollywood Culture Meets Marion County Politics

Once upon a time, even in Hollywood, any small scandal was enough to sink the career of a young starlet or hunky actor. Now, in the age of Paris Hilton, Britney Spears and Kiefer Sutherland, the more scandal the merrier. It is seemingly celebrated and rubbed in our faces. Unlike Hollywood, scandal in politics has traditionally been less than forgiving, but even that has changed. Former President Bill Clinton proved that numerous sex scandals are no deterrent to becoming the leader of the world's most powerful nation. And so it seems those relaxing standards have arrived with full force in Marion County politics--something of which I was reminded as I reviewed the Indianapolis Bar Association's survey of 2008 judicial candidates in Marion County. Many people as of late look to the Marion County Democrats when they think of bad boy images, but the Marion Couty GOP has its share of them as well.

A couple of years ago, the Marion County GOP slated former City-County Councilor Ron Franklin to run for Congress in the 7th District. Franklin pleaded guilty back in 2001 to charges he fired a handgun at a truck carrying several passengers. Police also found cocaine and marijuana in his car on two separate occasions, although he denied the drugs belonged to him. Franklin had supposedly turned his life around after he found Jesus Christ and had earned the right to be one of 435 members of Congress the GOP told us. The GOP chairman who told us to support Franklin was State Rep. Mike Murphy, who is now facing charges he committed a hit-and-run with his automobile after leaving a downtown bar. Attorney Terry Record worked as a deputy prosecutor in the office of Marion Co. Prosecutor Carl Brizzi until he was fired for lying about a hit-and-run, but he quickly earned a job from the Daniels' administration working for as an attorney for the Department of Health until he drove away drunk from a local strip club and struck another car, killing a 47-year-old father. And then there's Rev. Olgen Williams, who Mayor Ballard just named Deputy Mayor of Public and Neighborhood Affairs. He was convicted of stealing money while working as a U.S. postal worker during his 20s, which he said he stole to feed a drug addiction. Like Franklin, he found Jesus Christ, turned his life around and even won a presidential pardon.

All of this brings me to the point of this post. The Indianapolis Bar Association's survey of 2008 judicial candidates includes Republican hopeful Timothy Oakes. For the past several years, Oakes has earned a living as a State House lobbyist for the cable TV industry, but that's the least rub against his candidacy for the Marion County Superior Court. As a teen-ager in 1982, Oakes drove a car after consuming too much alcohol and struck and killed Larry Morton. Oakes never served time in jail and only received a six-month suspension of his driver's license. Despite the harm Oakes brought to Morton's family, his career path moved along nicely. He earned a college education and became a driver for former Gov. Robert Orr. Orr, who was unaware Oakes had killed another man as a teen-ager, told the Star's Joseph Gelarden back in 1996, "He was the kind of guy who had a tough upbringing." "He pulled himself up from the bootstraps and got himself a college education."

Oakes went on to become a top aide to former Mayor Steve Goldsmith, who named him to head up his re-election campaign in 1995. After Goldsmith dumped Oakes to replace him with Anne Shane, former Marion County Prosecutor Scott Newman picked up Oakes as a top deputy in his office; however, Newman abruptly fired Oakes in 1996 amid concerns Oakes had obstructed justice in a criminal case involving his own father. The Star's Gelarden wrote on April 6, 1996:

Tim Oakes was making a name for himself in the Republican Party-an aide to one governor, a campaign manager for a would-be governor-desptite a charge of killing someone while driving drunk as a teen-ager.

But this week his career came crashing down when Oakes, 32, was forced to resign as a deputy prosecutor under suspicions that he had obstructed justice in a theft probe involving his father.

Marion County Prosecutor Scott Newman said Friday he was shocked by the turn of events.

"He had a lot of promise and skill as a trial lawyer," said Newman, who hired Oakes last year to work on municipal cases . . .

His career had already taken a tumble last year when Mayor Stephen Goldsmith removed him from as his re-election campaign director . . .

The Star . . . . learned that Oakes' dismissal from the campaign was partly because of his involvement as a teen-ager in a drunken driving incident that cuased the death of a 36-year-old man.

Oakes' latest problem stems from an investigation into a theft ring stealing property from construction sites in Marion County. Newman had assigned Oakes to monitor the police probe into the thefts after Newman received complaints from builders late last year.

Oakes' father, N.E. Oakes, was arrested Sunday after a search of his trailer in the 5000 block of Massachusetts Avenue. Three other men also were arrested. Charges against all four men suspected in the theft ring are pending the completion of an investigation by Tippecanoe County Prosecutor Jerry Bean, who has been appointed special prosecutor in the case.

Three weeks ago, Newman said, detectives informed him that Oakes' father was the target of the probe. At that point, Newman told Oakes the investigation was being suspended because of a lack of resources.

"There were indications to raise concern whether N.E. Oakes had gleaned some information from his son about the investigation," Newman said.

After the father's arrest, the prosecutor confronted Tim Oakes.

"He protested his innocence," Newman said. "He gave an explanation. I was not satisfied with his answer, and I asked for his resignation. I then petitioned for a special prosecutor of the father and asked detectives and the special prosecutor to determine if that merits any investigation of Tim."

It was because of the connections Oakes had made with builders as a fundraiser for Goldsmith that Newman asked him to monitor the task force looking into construction thefts.

The Star report indicated that Goldsmith dumped Oakes, in part, from his campaign because Oakes had never disclosed his crime as a teen-ager. "I prosecuted a lot of young adults, and I like to think some of them learned from their serious mistakes and were able to rebuild their lives," Goldsmith said. "Everybody can make a mistake and learn from it, but the lack of prior disclosure was of some concern to me." Goldsmith, however, was the prosecutor at the time Oakes killed Morton and let him off with a 6-month suspension of his driver's license, notwithstanding the fact that he also headed up the Governor's task force on drunk driving at the time, and that Goldsmith ignored earlier pleas by Morton's family not to hire Oakes. As Gelarden reported:

Connie Farr, who was 13 when her brother, Larry E. Morton, was killed, said she called the mayor's office about four years ago to complain when she read that Oakes was joining Goldsmith's administration; she never learned whether anything had come of her call . . .

Farr said Oakes got a six-month driver's license suspension. She said the family is still angry that Oakes never served time in jail.

"My mom and dad are not the type of people to get something done . . . they'll take the pain."

Vincent Morton, who was 16 when his father was killed, said Oakes got leniency because he made good grades in school. Morton said he was unaware Oakes held such a high position in the Goldsmith campaign.

"If I did know he was the mayor's campaign director, I would have told him (Goldsmith) about it. [Oakes] took a lot away from me. I hope he gets whatever
he deserves."

As strange as it may seem, this is not the first time Oakes has been under consideration for a Marion County judge position. About three years ago, Marion County Republican Chairman Mike Murphy included Oakes' name in a list of five candidates furnished to Gov. Daniels to consider as the replacement for Marion Co. Juvenile Court Judge James Payne, who resigned to become director of Children Services in the Daniels' administration. When I read in the Star that Payne had included Oakes in the list of candidates, I e-mailed him to express my outrage. Murphy told me that Oakes came highly recommended by a panel of attorneys, which included Marion Co. Prosecutor Carl Brizzi, attorney David Brooks and, believe it or not, former Prosecutor Scott Newman. Murphy aslo forwarded my e-mail to Oakes, who immediately telephoned me to defend his character. He explained to me how had made mistakes as a teen-ager he deeply regretted and had some subsequent drunk driving problems, but that he had since turned his life around. He also said he was cleared of obstruction of justice charges in connection with his firing from the prosecutor's office.

While I respected what Oakes had been able to make of his life after his troubled teen-age years, he didn't change my mind about whether he possessed the character and fitness to serve as a juvenile court judge, and certainly the family of Larry Morton hadn't changed their views about their father's killer. They contacted a Star reporter days after I spoke to Oakes to express their outrage that he could be considered for such an important judicial job. After their pleas to Gov. Daniels appeared in the newspaper, Oakes quietly withdrew his name from consideration and the Governor wisely appointed Marilyn Moores, an eminently more-qualified candidate to fill Payne's seat on the bench.

It is obvious from Oakes' nomination by Murphy in 2005 for the juvenile court judicial seat he has considerable clout in the Republican Party. Under the wacky system we have in Marion County for selecting judges, each party nominates a slate of judicial candidates in the May primary. In order to be selected, an attorney must have strong political connections and pay a hefty slating fee to their respective party. If you are lucky enough to be slated and win the May primary, which the slated candidates typically win, your odds of winning are almost guaranteed. Only one of the field of Democratic and Republican judicial candidates for Marion Co. Superior Court lose in the general election. When I have mentioned Oakes' judicial candidacy to some local Republicans, I've been astounded by the voices of support I've heard for him.

And so it is in Marion County politics as it is in Hollywood. Proudly wear your bad behavior and indiscretions like a badge of honor. We're all forgiving, and there is nobody else out there with an unblemished private and public life better-suited to do the job. So to all you young kids out there, remember this: You can behave as badly as you want and still have hope of becoming a Deputy Mayor or a Marion County judge. Enjoy life. Just say you're a changed person and all will be forgiven.

28 comments:

Wilson46201 said...

You can even get arrested and convicted for drunk driving and be elected President of the USA. Two DWIs will bump you down to Vice-President however...

Anonymous said...

Great post Gary! I even thought that your post was pretty funny Wilson.

Angry Republican said...

Glad to see that Wilson is making light of other people's suffering.

I'm sure he wouldn't want to have such a joke related to Harvey Milk, Dan White, or the Twinkie Defense.

Joking about this stuff is in extremely poor taste, Wilson.

I'm not defending Tim Oakes - glad he made something of himself after committing such a crime. I don't know that he should become a judge, though.

AR

Anonymous said...

Thank you.

I'd been worried about this since the first rumblings. Someone needs to speak up on this.

He did exactly the same thing as Terry Record. Except add the fact he wasn't even legally old enough to drink.

Anonymous said...

Wilson actually has something worth listening to?
Mark this on a calendar!
Score one for Wilson.
As to the post..

the hits just keep on coming!!

Anonymous said...

Oakes either has dirt on some high up people, or he has 9 lives. No other explanation for it.

erin said...

The drunk driving incident is incredibly sad for everyone. What a terrible thing to have happen to the family and a young man who, while responsible for his own decision to drink, seems to have had a decent future ahead of him.

The more disturbing part is the theft ring. Gary, if I follow the story- Oakes was assigned to monitor the police investigation, but it was the detectives and not Oakes who informed Newman of Oakes Sr.'s possible involvement? That seems odd. I don't know the standard for obstruction of justice, but, at the least, that has to be THE most straight forward conflict of interest I can imagine. which would I think necessitate telling your boss about your conflict.

Advance Indiana said...

I had the same reaction, Erin. What I can't understand is the turnabout by Newman in supporting Oakes' name for the juvenile court slot years later. Obviously, Tim was never prosecuted, and I don't know if Newman filed a complaint with the disciplinary commission. If he believed what he told the newspaper, I would have thought he would have had a duty to report him. Otherwise, we are simply to believe Newman made a very rash decision to fire Oakes, and that it turns out Oakes was completely innocent.

Advance Indiana said...

In the Star article at the time, Newman also stated he chose Oakes for this task because he had been so successful at raising money from builders for Goldsmith's campaign. That strikes me as being a pretty poor reason for a prosecutor to choose any of his deputies for any task in the prosecutor's office.

Advance Indiana said...

Wilson, I happen to believe that if the Democrats had not waited until two days before the election to bring up Bush's more than 20-year-old drunk driving arrest but raised it sooner in the campaign, it would have turned the electorate just enough against him to beat him. I have also been bothered by Bush's past drug use as an adult. I know a very respected attorney in Texas who insists there was a Bush arrest on drug charges as an adult which got mysteriously expunged from court records.

Erin said...

That is even worse. I can't imagine how I'd feel if I was a victimized builder who hadn't given money to Goldsmith, probably not super confident in the "service" I'd get. That seems like a rather overtly political signal to me.

The first time I read this story, my first reaction was "wow, this guy could have ruined some good people's careers by not being honest about his past. But, in rereading it seems somewhat ambiguous as to whether people really didn't know his past. Except Gov. Orr, and I am sorry, but that is just outrageous. You have a drunk driving conviction that killed someone and you don't tell the Governor?? And you are his driver?? That doesn't make any sense at all to me.

SOS said...

The Court and Commercial Record had some feel-good article on this guy - probably about three years ago.

Anonymous said...

Second chances. Is this what we want out of people who have made wrong or stupid decisions particularly in their teen and very early 20's? Get them productive. This D could kiss Mitch (iky) for replacing Payne (pain) with Moores. She has and is doing a great job unlike the pain. HOWEVER, maybe Payne recommended (oh, God for forbid I'm actually giving Payne credit for something) Oakes because he was a kid who grew up in the environment where most of our jev's are coming from and understands what needs to be done. I, like most, had no idea what Oakes history was. Meet him, talk to him, get to know hime. He is a really nice guy. I sincerely doubt that any one is pulling strings for him.
I absolultely to do not want my comments to disregard the unbearable pain or lasting sense of loss from family that Oakes actions put into play. But he was a stupid kid. Shall he wear the scarlet "K" for the rest of his life?!.

I am not saying that he should be jusge but I highly question that he has been pulling any strings. Get to know the MAN now rather than the stupid teenager he was.

If ya'll give Williams a chance why not Oakes?

Anonymous said...

Gary: The way Judges are elected in Marion County changed with the 2006 election. The Dems and the Repubs will each have ten candidates on the November Ballot all 20 will be elected unless one is beaten by a third party candidate. You win the primary you are elected if there is someone you think should not be a judge you had better beat them in the primary.
Before 2006 the judge who finished last out of 16 was not elected. When they added judges to Marion County the legislature changed this one of the big supporters of the change was then Marion County Chairman Rep. Mike Murphy.

Jack said...

My first thought after reader the comments, "He who lives in a glass house, shouldn't throw stones." One can only assume our readers are perfect and never need a second chance. It sure is easy to 'anonymously' be critical of someone you don't even know. I do know Oakes. He grew up in a trailor park in a rough East side neighborhood. His dad did not work regularly due to a back injury and his mother made minimum wage to support the family. He 'survived' Tech H.S. with honors. Despite his behind the eight ball youth, he managed to earn a scholarship to Wabash College (not exactly academically easy), then work full-time while putting himself through law school at night. There is no question the H.S. tragedy was a bad teenage decision. Oakes lives with the knowledge that someone died and used this as motivation to succeed in live and find ways to give back. Scott Newman supported Oakes for judge a couple years ago because the special prosecutor found no misdoing and believes he is innocent. They are good friends to this day. So before you pick the next rock, ask yourself, have you traveled as far in your life as Oakes has with his?

Anonymous said...

Jack,

A lot of folks were brought up under similar or worse circumstances and succeeded. Those who succeeded were typically wise enough to make full disclosure when appropriate and to avoid placing themselves in a position that would even give off the appearance of impropriety.

Anonymous said...

business as usual in the Marion County GOP and especially in the new Ballard administration.

Anonymous said...

Someone needs to challenge our system of selecting judges, which as another writer here has noted, was changed.

If you want to participate in the selection of judges, you have to declare for a Democratc or Republican ballot in the May primary.

Anonymous said...

Those of us who regularly appear in Marion County Courts for business can tell you:

The Courts are a dumping ground for bad attorneys anyway. Honestly, the total of truly good judges is not over 10-14. There are another five or so who are mediocre, and the rest and just a joke.

Appointing or nominating a man of Oaks's character, given the death on his hands, would continue that tradition of mediocrity. Or worse.

Most good attorneys won't go to the bench. There are exceptions. Thank God for the appointment of Marilyn Moores, for instance...she inherited Payne's mess and has worked tirelessly to correct it.

But there aren't enough Zores, Mooreses, Renners and good ones, to make up for the clowns.

And most of the Marion County bar knows this all too well.

Guess who benefitted a great deal from the little Murphy-Treacy county chair deal on judge election a few years ago?

Chairman Treacy's wife is one of those mediocre judges. For life now, it appears.

Cushy job, no actual time-on-task requirements, and little oversight. Don't forget, for awhile, that ethically-challenged Judge Cale Bradford was chief judge. And presided over the 2003 council redistricting case even though his brother was a councilman and candidate.

Which would make an ordinary 8-yr-old blush.

Now, thankfully, he's only a state appeals court judge. Also for life.

Ron V. Franklin said...

I shot 5 warning shots into the air at the truck that was trying to run me over. The driver was dumping on City property. I told him to stop. He tried to run me over with his truck. I possess 37 pages of his arrests and convictions. He didn't have a drivers license and he had two outstanding warrants at the time. Yes, I fired to stop him. I would do the same again. Yes, I pled guilty to discharging a firearm inside city limits. No, I didn't have to go to the hospital or the morgue, thank you. And there were no drugs involved. Check your story next time.

Ron V. Franklin

Advance Indiana said...

Ron, This is how the Star's Mary Beth Schneider reported on your criminal past while you were a candidate in the 7th District race:

"He pleaded guilty in 2001 to a misdemeanor of criminal recklessness for firing a handgun at an occupied truck. He was acquitted of a felony drug charge in 2000 after police found cocaine in his car and also was acquitted in 1998 after marijuana was found in his car. In both cases, Franklin said the drugs belonged to others."

Ron V. Franklin said...

Thank you for allowing me to respond. If I am guilty of something, I will admit my guilt. I admitted guilt to firing the weapon- my life was in danger. I worked in the Meadows.

The recreational bag of cocaine had someone else's fingerprints on it, not mine. Hence, not guilty.

The mechanic who worked on my car admitted under oath and through a thorough deposition and investigation that he left the "roach" in my car. Subsequently, I had (then) I.P.D. bring a dope-sniffing dog to further check my car for any and all controlled substances. I refused to drive my car until that was done. Further, I took many court admissable drug tests. The first was within 4 hours of my release. All court admissable tests were negative.

I'm not claiming here to be an angel. I'm just saying that if I do something wrong, I will own up to it. Conversely, if I didn't do it, I will vigorously fight the charge.

Ron V. Franklin

Anonymous said...

How did the recreational bag of cocaine get in your car? I ask because you gave an explanation as to how the marijauna arrived in your car...but for some reason, you chose not to elaborate on the recreational bag of cocaine.

Ron V. Franklin said...

To this day, I still don't know for sure. If you check, you'll see I had a designated driver. It was the day after the election and I was celebrating downtown. The record will also show I was not the last person in my car.

Indy Lawyer said...

I'm shocked to hear Marilyn Moores praised. Do the people who are praising her actually know here? She's a complete goof - has been for years. She has a horrible personality and probably the worst judicial temperement of anyone I've ever practiced before. I don't know a single attorney who thinks she is a good job. Tim Oakes, even with his baggage, couldn't be worse.

Anonymous said...

"The Courts are a dumping ground for bad attorneys anyway. Honestly, the total of truly good judges is not over 10-14. There are another five or so who are mediocre, and the rest and just a joke"


I'm curious...who are the 10-14?

Fact Check said...

"Despite the harm Oakes brought to Morton's family, his career path moved along nicely."

Shameful, isn't it? I agree with Advance Indiana, specifically their stance that those convicted of crimes should NEVER become productive members of society. Property tax crisis? Let's just get rid of all the career training courses in the Dept. of Corrections for crying out loud! And all this "get out early for earning your GED" - NONSENSE! Why the heck should convicts get an education? Advance Indiana and I both agree they should never succeed in later life or ever make something of themselves. To heck with them!

PS: Please do not make any reference to the large plank in my eye.

bub said...

MY NAME IS VINCENT LEE MORTON, MY DAD WAS LARRY E MORTON. A FEW YEARS AGO I GOT A LETTER FROM THEN FORMER PROSECUTOR SCOTT NEWMAN ASKING ME TO MEET HIM AND TIM OAKS,SO WE COULD TALK ABOUT SOMETHING,I WENT THERE WITH MY MOTHER, THEY WANTED ME TO LET HIM BECOME THE JUVENILE JUDGE TO REPLACE JUDGE PAYNE, I TOLD THEM THAT HE DIDN'T NEED TO BE A JUDGE ,CONVICTING TEENAGERS OF THE SAME THING HE DID ALL THOSE YEARS AGO, THAT IT WAS NOT RIGHT. AND TIM OAKS SAID THAT HE WOULD TAKE HIS NAME OUT OF THE RUNNING,AND HE DID. I TOLD THEM NOT TO CONTACT ME AGAIN, THEN A WEEK BEFORE HE CAME A JUDGE, SOMEBODY CALLED ME AND SAID HEY THAT GUY THAT KILLED YOUR DAD IS GOING TO BE A JUDGE.I CALLED THE PAPERS AND THEY SAID IT WAS A DONE DEAL. MY MOM TOOK IT HARD AGAIN, THEY,TIM OAKS AND SCOTT NEWMAN, TOLD HER HE WOULD NOT RUN FOR JUDGE AGAIN, THEN HE BECAME ONE. WELL I AM GOING TO DO EVERYTHING IN MY POWER TO CHANGE THAT. HE KILLED MY DAD AND THEN HE PRETTY MUCH SLAPPED MY MOM IN THE FACE BY BECOMING A JUDGE. IN TWO WEEKS WILL BE THE DAY MY LIFE CHANGED FOR EVER, MARCH 7,1982. NOW ITS 2010. HE SHOULD HAVE NOT SLAPPED MY MOM IN THE FACE. I AM PISSED, AND,IF WHEN THEY VOTE AGAIN, MEANS ME WALKING AROUND DOWNTOWN WITH A SIGN ON ME SAYING THIS MAN KILLED MY DAD , DON'T VOTE FOR HIM, I WILL. SINCERELY YOURS, THE SON OF A VICTIM KILLED BY A DRUNK DRIVER MARION COUNTY JUDGE TIMOTHY OAKS.SINCERELY,VINCE MORTON.