Monday, September 13, 2010

Where Do Prosecutor Candidates Stand On Prosecuting Public Corruption?

Those of you who read my blog regularly know the disdain I have towards the Marion County Prosecutor's Office and the U.S. Attorney's Office in Indianapolis because of the blind eye both offices take towards public corruption cases. Both offices have a history of being run by political hacks from both political parties who are more concerned about protecting their viability in the political system than administering justice. In Indiana, the Marion County Prosecutor is the most important prosecutor in the state because it is the seat of state government. Indiana's Attorney General, who is not even a constitutional officer, presides over one of the weakest attorney general offices in the country by design, and recent occupants of that office have seemed to have no interest in expanding the statutory powers of the office.

The IBJ's Mary Dieter (former State House reporter for the Louisville Courier-Journal) has a story in the most recent edition of the business magazine discussing the Marion County prosecutor's race and the looming presence of the current occupant of that office, Carl Brizzi, in the race between Republican Mark Massa and Democrat Terry Curry. Dieter writes:

The specter of disgraced Marion County prosecutor Carl Brizzi looms large in the race to replace him.

Democrat Terry Curry is more than willing to discuss Brizzi; Republican Mark Massa wishes he’d fade away. They agree, however, that Brizzi’s behavior means change is drastically needed in the prosecutor’s office.

Curry puts it this way: “There’s no doubt whatsoever that the No. 1 challenge for the next prosecutor is . . . to restore trust and confidence in the office.”

Massa: “It’s the single biggest challenge that the next prosecutor faces—that is, restoring public confidence not only in the prosecutor’s office but in law enforcement writ large.”
Brizzi epitomizes the worst of what the office has become. His entangled web of business deals and jockeying to curry favor with political and business insiders has made the office the laughing stock of the country. In her interview of the candidates, Dieter noted particular interest Curry showed in beefing up the prosecution of public corruption cases if he becomes prosecutor. Curry's background as a deputy county prosecutor is handling white collar crimes as opposed to the traditional criminal cases Massa handled as a federal and deputy county prosecutor. Curry "noted the importance of that [white collar crime and corruption] experience because the Marion County prosecutor is the principal watchdog of state government." “How many times in the last eight years have we read about, heard about any significant white-collar-crime case or political corruption case?" Curry asked Dieter. "I think the answer to that is seldom, if ever,” he said. “I think the corresponding question is, have we been very fortunate that that sort of conduct is not going on or has someone been asleep at the wheel?”

Massa has been up on the air with a couple of ads, while Curry has yet to hit the airwaves. Massa's campaign so far has focused on fighting traditional crimes. He touts his success as a prosecutor in two capital murder cases. I'm not really concerned about which of the candidates has tried more cases, or which type of cases they've tried. The fact is the prosecutor in Marion County has a large staff of seasoned prosecutors who specialize in prosecuting different types of cases. What I'm more concerned is which of the candidates will actually use the office to prosecute public corruption offices at the state level and at the local level. Under all of our recent prosecutors, it has been a complete waste of time for anyone to bother reporting public corruption involving any major political players at the state or local level. A whistle blower is more likely to be outed by the prosecutor's offices to their superior than have their reported crimes taken seriously by the office.

Massa has stated on his campaign website his intent to establish a public integrity section within his office. He also promises to establish a hotline for his grand jury division to receive whistleblower complaints concerning malfeasance committed by public officials and public employees. That's all well and good, but unless he appoints a nonpartisan, independent to head up his public integrity section, I suspect we won't see any more cases prosecuted than we've seen prosecuted under Goldsmith, Modisett, Newman and Brizzi. One of the last Democrats to hold the office back in the 1970s, James Kelley, left office after one term in office under a cloud when it was learned he attended a gay sex and drug party where a young man died of an apparent drug overdose and he initially tried to have his office handle the case before he was outed by the local news media. Scott Newman at first aggressively pursued cases involving corruption in the awarding of Indiana's gaming licenses, but he suddenly dropped his investigation without explanation and then took a job with one of the law firms representing one of the gaming companies he had been investigating. Steve Goldsmith, like several of his predecessors and successors, ignored blatant public corruption in the Center Township Trustee's Office. It goes without saying Brizzi has run the most corrupt prosecutor's office in recent memory, and it's no small wonder he won't investigate public corruption cases brought to his attention.


foretell said...

If the Marion County Prosecutor wants to prosecute white collar crime, it is fine with me. The principal focus of his job should be, however, the jailing of violent Marion County offenders.
Wouldn’t our energies be better utilized if we pressed the Legislature to change the Attorney General’s office?

Carlos F. Lam said...

Gary, I agree that corruption is an issue that should be rooted out. It affects EVERY taxpayer.

At the same time, the effects of corruption are not immediately felt and--as a consequence--corruption doesn't have the same "urgency" as do crimes like robbery, burglary, rape, and OWI.

Advance Indiana said...

Carlos, Prosecutors focus so much on those cases because it's a piece of cake to send people to jail for many years who can't afford a good criminal defense attorney. Public defenders are assigned far too many cases and cannot devote the attention each of those cases deserve. Public corruption cases typically involve well-paid, politically-connected white collar defense attorneys, which means the prosecutor has to work much harder to win convictions in those cases and runs the risk of alienating big-time contributors. It's a lot easier to ignore those latter cases, but the rotting effect it has on the system, the increasing sense of distrust of the government and belief that there really are two forms of justice in this country for the haves and have nots is totally undermining our constitutional form of government. When we cease to be a nation of laws and become instead a nation of men, it is only a matter of time before the very foundation upon which our government is built cracks and crumbles into a state of chaos.

Bob said...


I think you forgot one Democrat who was elected in 1990. Jeff Modisett. He served one term before running for Attorney General.

Advance Indiana said...

Modisett is listed. I just didn't identify him by party.