Ex-Ind. elections chief sues defense lawyer

Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS — Former Indiana Secretary of State Charlie White alleges in a lawsuit that he was the victim of legal malpractice by his defense attorney leading up to the voter fraud conviction that forced him from office.

White’s lawsuit against former Marion County Prosecutor Carl Brizzi contends that Brizzi wasn’t adequately versed in the complexities of election, property and residency laws at White’s February 2012 trial.

Brizzi “rendered legal services that fell below the reasonable standard of criminal defense attorneys because he was ignorant of the law, criminal trial procedure and ignorant of the facts in critical phases of (White’s) case during the jury trial,” White contends in the lawsuit filed last week in Marion County court.

A Hamilton County jury convicted White on voter fraud and other charges after Brizzi did not call any witnesses and immediately rested the defense after the prosecution wrapped up its case. White was sentenced to one year of home detention and was automatically removed from office.

Brizzi said he was expecting the lawsuit after White asked him to sign an affidavit saying the terminal illness of Brizzi’s mother was a distraction during trial. Brizzi said she was in and out of nursing homes with cancer before her May 2012 death.

“He wanted me to say that was a huge distraction. But I don’t think that interfered with the trial, so I didn’t sign it,” Brizzi said in a telephone interview.

White, a Republican, made similar claims against Brizzi in March, when his new attorney asked a Hamilton County judge to overturn the convictions. An Aug. 15 hearing is scheduled on that request.

The charges against White stemmed from him using his ex-wife’s address in Fishers as his voting address when he was serving on the Town Council of the Indianapolis suburb and running for secretary of state in 2010.

His convictions on three counts of voter fraud, two counts of perjury and one count of theft forced him from office about 13 months after he became the state’s top elections official.

The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages, saying Brizzi’s “errors and omissions have resulted in permanent harm to (White’s) reputation and ability to secure employment.”

Brizzi, who is also a Republican, was the elected prosecutor for Marion County, which includes Indianapolis, and served from 2003 through 2010.

A former central Indiana coroner whom Brizzi represented in a drunken driving case also is suing him, saying he provided incompetent counsel that kept her from running for re-election. Former Hancock County Coroner Tamara Vangundy sued Brizzi in May after her felony official misconduct conviction barred her from seeking elected office.

Brizzi also has faced scrutiny for his personal and political ties to Timothy Durham, an Indianapolis businessman and major Republican donor who was convicted last year on federal charges of swindling about $200 million from investors in Akron, Ohio-based Fair Finance.

Brizzi’s former top deputy prosecutor, David Wyser, pleaded guilty this month to federal charges of accepting a $2,500 bribe in 2009 from a prisoner’s father to reduce her 70-year sentence on murder charges.

The alleged sentence reduction scheme first surfaced in 2010, when Brizzi’s office denied it to Indianapolis media. According to news reports at the time, the woman’s father had also donated nearly $30,000 to Brizzi’s campaign committee from 2006 through 2008, and her sentence was reduced so much that she became eligible for early release.

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