Thursday, August 23, 2012

Hancock County Coroner Resigns After Guilty Plea: Can She Still Run For Re-Election?

Hancock Co. Coroner Tamara Vangundy agreed to plead guilty to operating a vehicle while intoxicated and official misconduct. Vangundy's arrest occurred after she showed up for a death investigation noticeably under the influence of alcohol. She was sentenced to one year of probation. According to news reports, Vangundy will resign her elected position; however, she will remain on the November ballot for re-election and, in effect, re-interview for her old job. News reports of her plea deal are conflicting. The Star report indicates that Vangundy's guilty plea included one felony charge of official misconduct, while other news reports indicated that she pleaded guilty to two misdemeanors, including official misconduct. Indiana's criminal code, however, makes official misconduct a class D felony. I couldn't find a lesser crime defined as a misdemeanor in the criminal code. If she pleaded guilty to a felony, she would appear to be disqualified as a candidate under I.C. 3-8-1-5. According to her attorney, Carl Brizzi, the intention of the plea agreement reached by Vangundy and a special prosecutor appointed to handle the case was for her to plead guilty to two misdemeanors. Can the court re-classify a crime defined under Indiana law as a felony as a misdemeanor to avoid the operation of I.C. 3-8-1-5 so she can remain eligible for re-election? I would be interested in hearing the thoughts of others.


Paul K. Ogden said...

The office of coroner is a constitutional office. The Indiana Constitution includes qualifications for those county constitutional offices, basically the only one being that you be a resident of the county for a year before being elected. There is an argument that you can't add to those qualifications by statute, you can only do so by constitutional amendment.

That in fact has been the courts' conclusion with regard to the federal constitution and federal offices. You can't, for example, add by statute the qualification that someone not be a felon to run for Congress or be an attorney to be a federal judge.

It's a gray area though to say the least and I wouldn't be surprised if there are cases on the other side regarding applying Indiana's felony rule to county candidates. And it was applied to Charlie White, and I'm sure the Secretary of State is a constitutional office as well. I'm surprised someone didn't argue the qualifications argument in White's case. Then again, there are a lot of things that I didn't understand about how that criminal case was handled, but I'm not an attorney. Oh, wait a second, I am.

Marycatherine Barton said...

I too am still puzzled, even shocked, about the way the criminal case against Charlie White was "handled". It also would appear to me that Tamara Vangundy can run for reelection as coroner, and will probably be reelected.

Gary R. Welsh said...

The disqualification statute takes into account the fact that a felony can be reduced to a misdemeanor after the plea is entered; however, as I read the statute, that does not affect the operation of the disqualification to run for office provided by the statute.

Paul K. Ogden said...

Gary, I agree with your analysis about the statutes.