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
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.