MICHIGAN CITY – The day after Mayor Ron Meer was unseated by voters in the municipal election, a third judge has recused himself from taking on the criminal case against the mayor, who Tuesday repeated claims of the charges being politically motivated.
In court documents unsealed on Friday, the mayor is charged with five felony counts of intimidation, one felony charge of official misconduct, and two misdemeanor counts of false informing resulting in a hindrance to law enforcement, according to court records.
On Wednesday, Judge Michael Bergerson of La Porte County Superior Court 1 in Michigan City refused to take the case.
Bergerson declined to accept jurisdiction, citing Rule 2.11 of the Code of Judicial Conduct, which states: A judge shall disqualify himself in any proceeding in which the judge's impartiality might reasonably be questioned.
"In my opinion, my prior appointment by the defendant to serve as the attorney for the Michigan City Redevelopment Commission (January 2012 through January 2013) comes within said rule," the judge wrote.
He is the third county judge to recuse himself.
The charges were originally filed in Superior Court 4 in La Porte, but Judge Greta Friedman Sterling recused herself, saying her husband, La Porte County Attorney Shaw Friedman, was "included on an email chain and could potentially lead to his being a witness in this matter," the judge wrote. She also recused her magistrate.
The case was then sent to Superior Court 2 in La Porte, but Judge Richard Stalbrink also sent the case back because his wife, Amber Lapaich-Stalbrink, is corporation counsel for Michigan City.
The case has been sent back to the clerk for further assignment.
The charges stem from the mayor's alleged actions following the Oct. 10 arrest of his stepson, Adam Ross Bray, by the La Porte County Drug Task Force on felony charges of possession of heroin, possession of cocaine and possession of a firearm by a violent felon. As of Wednesday, Bray remains in the La Porte County Jail on a $20,000 cash-only bond, with his next court date scheduled for Dec. 5 in Superior Court 1.
In the days following, Meer first accused La Porte County Prosecutor John Lake of "setting up" Bray for "political retaliation," an allegation later repeated by the mayor's attorney, Scott King of Merrillville.
And Tuesday night, speaking to reporters after his loss to Duane Parry in the mayoral election, Meer said: “In was – in my opinion – political sabotage. Or as my attorney, Scott King, has said, a ‘hatchet job.’ It’s easy to see through, in my opinion. And I believe that I’ll be exonerated of all the false charges anyway.”
Meer said a confidential informant in the case had come to his home and told him and his son that Bray had been set up by the prosecutor and the Task Force, according to court documents.
Lake denied the claim, saying his office "does not target people and the Drug Task Force does not target people" and that he was "shocked" by the allegation.
The following week, Meer contacted former police chief Mark Swistek and told him to end the Michigan City Police Department's involvement with the Task Force and to reassign the officers involved in his arrest. Swistek and his top two assistants resigned over the request, and the chief also notified federal authorities and the prosecutor's office of the request, court records show.
The intimidation charges in the case stem from the request by Meer to reassign the officers, putting them and the chief "in fear of retaliation."
But King said the intimidation charges will not hold up in court because an elected official cannot be charged with giving an order to a subordinate, even if the subordinate disagrees with the order.
The false informing charges stem from the mayor's claim of a set-up, and that the confidential informant came to his house and told him Bray had been set up, according to court records.
Because the confidential informant, when interviewed by police, denied speaking to Meer or that Bray had been set up, according to court records, Meer's claim was "false information" which "substantially hindered the Michigan City Police Department investigation," according to the charging information.
The official misconduct charge is because Meer, in his official capacity, was charged with felonies and misdemeanors, court records show.
On Monday, King filed a motion for a special prosecutor in the case, calling the charges "nothing more (or less) than a political hatchet job by a Prosecuting Attorney that was not politically supported last year by my client and does not support my client now."
It claims the possibility of Bray being set up "clearly involves the La Porte County Prosecutor’s Office and, potentially, all of its personnel as potential witnesses in this case. This is an untenable conflict of interest.”
Lake said he could not comment on King's statements, but said in an email that a hearing will be held on the motion for a special prosecutor and he “will be given the opportunity to be heard about the allegations made ... I am looking forward to that opportunity to demonstrate to the court that ... no actual conflict of interest exists.”
With yet another judge recusing himself, the timing of that hearing remains up in the air.
In the meantime, Meer will be allowed to remain in office for the remainder of his term, which ends in early January. If convicted of a felony, he would have to resign, but it appears unlikely the case will proceed that far by year's end.