PORTAGE – It took weeks for a judge to be found to hear the criminal case against Mayor Ron Meer, and now the search is on for a new prosecutor.
Porter County Superior Judge Jeffrey Thode last week appointed Porter County's Gary Germann as special prosecutor in the case after agreeing to a defense request to replace La Porte County Prosecutor John Lake.
But Germann this week filed notice that he had declined to accept the case. Thode will now have to appoint a prosecutor from a different county to represent the state in the case. The outgoing Michigan City mayor 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. Lake and the commander of the Task Force each testified there was no set-up involved in Bray's arrest.
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)."
He chose Germann for that role, and will now need to look farther.
Germann told The News-Dispatch it was because of his relationship with Lake that he declined to take the case.
"I know the La Porte County Prosecutor, John Lake, and since the case seemed to involve the exercise of his discretion, I considered my relationship with him to be significant enough to create a conflict of interest," Germann said in an email.
"There are senior prosecutors throughout the state, so the court can, if it chooses, appoint someone from as far away as Evansville," he said.
Mary Lake, chief of staff in the La Porte County Prosecutor's Office, said the statute cited by Thode in agreeing to a new prosecutor "concerns the status of the defendant as an elected official. We expected that he would rule this way."
The statute 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 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.
Thode was appointed as special judge in the case in mid-November after all five La Porte County judges recused themselved, citing past dealings with Meer or other potential conflicts.
Meer is next scheduled to appear in court in February in Portage, before a trial date is set.
Thode set a discovery conference/omnibus hearing for Feb. 10 in Porter Superior Court 6. He said a trial would be conducted in La Porte County Superior Court 4 in La Porte, though no date has yet been set.
That hearing remains on the court calendar, but could be moved back depending on how long it takes to find a prosecutor willing to take the case.
Bray remains in the La Porte County Jail on a $20,000 cash bond, charged with felony counts of possession of a weapon by a violent felon, possession of cocaine, and possession of a narcotic drug; and a misdemeanor count of resisting arrest.