PORTAGE – When Michigan City Mayor Ron Meer next appears in court on felony charges, a new prosecutor will be representing the state.
Porter County Superior Judge Jeff Thode ruled Monday that Porter County Prosecutor Gary Germann will be at the prosecutor's table when Meer faces felony charges of intimidation and official misconduct, and misdemeanor charges of false informing.
At a hearing on the matter on Nov. 26, Scott King, attorney for Meer, requested the appointment of a special prosecutor on the grounds that Meer is an elected public official.
King also claimed that La Porte County Prosecutor John Lake would have a conflict of interest in the case because the false informing charges came after Meer claimed that Lake initiated the arrest of his stepson, Adam Bray, in conjunction with the La Porte County Drug Task Force.
In his ruling, Thode wrote, "The Court does not find by clear and convincing evidence a conflict of interest exists to warrant the appointment of a special prosecutor ... The Court finds however that a special prosecutor should be appointed in the best interest of justice under IC33-39-10-2(b)(4)."
Mary Lake, chief of staff in the prosecutor's office, said in an email the statute cited by the judge "concerns the status of the defendant as an elected official. We expected that he would rule this way."
The statue says that a special prosecutor shall be appointed if "an elected public official who is a defendant in a criminal proceeding files a verified petition requesting a special prosecutor within 10 days after the date of the initial hearing; and ... the court finds that the appointment of a special prosecutor is in the best interests of justice..."
Mary Lake added that, "We are pleased that he did not find that a conflict of interest exists, since none is present."
King said he had not seen the order, and planned to review it, but was pleased with the ruling.
"We wanted to have a special prosecutor in this case and we're gratified that the judge has appointed a special prosecutor," the attorney said.
Meer will next appear in court in February in Portage, before a trial date is set. King said while some motions may be filed before then, he expects that date to remain on the court calendar.
Thode set a discovery conference/omnibus hearing for Feb. 10 in Porter Superior Court 6. He also said a trial would be conducted in La Porte County Superior Court 4 in La Porte, though no date has yet been set.
In his motion for a special prosecutor, in addition to citing the statue about elected officials, King said, “... we believe clear and convincing evidence exists of a conflict of interest with this prosecutor and his staff.”
He said there is “very little question that the prosecutor, his staff and his documents could be subject to discovery ... because of allegations that the prosecutor was involved in a conspiracy with police ... this prosecutor has more than the typical stake in this case. He and his office’s integrity have been called into question...”
He also said it was reasonable to assume Lake and his staff could be called as witnesses.
But John Lake told the judge said he had “no conflict” and the only way he could have is if he were called as a witness, and “the defense cannot call a prosecutor as a witness without compelling evidence ... they are assuming the allegations are true, but if I can show by evidence that they are not true, then there is no conflict.”
Testifying under oath, Lake said he had no role in the arrest of Bray and did not even learn of it until the next day when he was meeting with Task Force detectives on an unrelated murder case and was informed of the arrest.
Det. Tim Richardson, commander of the Drug Task Force, also testified that Bray was not set up by police or the prosecutor, and said that Meer and Bray had discussed a set-up in a recorded jailhouse conversation hours after Bray's arrest in late October.
He testified that those allegations were made several hours before Lake was even made aware of the arrest the next day.
WARRANT SOUGHT FOR McCORMICK
The Porter County Sheriff's Office is requesting an arrest warrant for Rodney McCormick of Michigan City, claiming he violated an order of protection filed by Mayor Ron Meer by appearing at Meer's court hearing in Portage, then waiting in the parking lot outside, where he yelled at and videotaped Meer.
– Story on Page A3