MICHIGAN CITY – An attorney hired by Ron Meer said felony charges filed against the Michigan City mayor last week are "politically driven" and has filed a motion for a special prosecutor in the case.
Scott King, former mayor of Gary and partner in the King, Brown & Murdaugh law firm in Merrillville, said in a statement, "My preliminary review of the charges demonstrates that they are poorly drafted and, I believe, subject to a Motion to Dismiss ... I firmly believe that none of the charges can be sustained in court."
King said he was "flabbergasted by what appears to be 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. I have news for Mr. Lake: Prosecutors have a higher obligation to the law and ethics of the legal profession than they do to elections and politics...
"That is not, sadly, what has happened here and appears to be the worst breach of ethics and professionalism that I have seen in the 43 years I have been an attorney. In an effort to stop any further improprieties ... I am filing the accompanying Motion for the Appointment of a Special Prosecutor that I hope will be heard and granted expeditiously by whatever court assumes jurisdiction of this case.”
But finding a court to hear the case may take some time.
Court records show that on Wednesday – under seal – the Prosecutor’s Office charged Meer with five felony counts of intimidation; one felony count of official misconduct; and two misdemeanor counts of false informing resulting in substantial hindrance to law enforcement. The charges were unsealed Friday.
The case was initially filed in Superior Court 4, but Judge Greta Stirling Friedman recused herself because her husband's employment "caused him to be included on an email chain and could potentially lead to his being a witness,” according to court records. That conflict extended to the court’s magistrate.
The case was transferred to Superior Court 2, but Judge Richard Stalbrink also recused himself, claiming a conflict because his wife, Amber Lapaich-Stalbrink, is corporation counsel for Michigan City.
“Since they both recused, it goes back to the clerk to send to the next judge up in the rotation to accept conflicts,” Lake said in an email Friday. “Once they get the case they will need to review for probable cause, and once that happens, a warrant will be issued if they find probable cause for the charges.”
On Saturday, the case was reassigned to Superior Court 1 and Judge Michael Bergerson.
However, an area attorney, who did not wish to be identified, said it was unlikely that any La Porte County judge would take the case, meaning it would be transferred to a special judge in another county.
On Monday, King, along with partners Lakeisha Murdaugh and Russell Brown, formally entered their names as attorneys for Meer, and filed the Motion to Appoint a Special Prosecutor, and a Memorandum of Support for the motion.
Lake said Monday that, as prosecutor, he cannot comment on the case, but explained in an email that an evidentiary hearing will be held on the motion "where I will be given the opportunity to be heard about the allegations made ... by Meer's attorney. I am looking forward to that opportunity to demonstrate to the court that under Indiana Code 33-39-10-2, no actual conflict of interest exists."
The charges came in the wake of the mayor’s stepson, Adam Ross Bray, being arrested by the La Porte County Drug Task Force on Oct. 10. He was charged with felony counts of possession of heroin, possession of cocaine and possession of a firearm by a violent felon. As of Monday, he remains in the La Porte County Jail on a $20,000 cash-only bond.
The following Monday, the mayor issued a statement saying Lake was behind the arrest, targeting his son for political reasons. Lake denied that claim, calling it “reckless.”
In his statement and Motion to for a Special Prosecutor, King says Lake should not prosecute the case.
"In Count I of said Information, a document executed personally by the La Porte County Prosecuting Attorney, it is specifically alleged that: '…[T]he CI had come to Ronald Alan Meer’s home, c)the CI had told Ronald Alan Meer that the CI had been directed by members of the La Porte County Prosecutor’s Office and La Porte County Drug Task Force to setup and target Adam Bray for political reasons…'
"This allegation 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," King wrote in the memorandum supporting the motion.
When Meer originally claimed that his stepson had been targeted, Lake called that claim false.
“... the prosecutor’s office does not target people and the drug task force does not target people,” he said. “I really can’t believe he’s thrown his own chief and officers and the whole department under the bus like this. I’m kind of shocked by these allegations.”
The mayor later backpedaled on his accusation, but King's motion again called the charges a political move.
"It should be noted that Mr. Meer is the incumbent Mayor ... and is seeking re-election ... and it should further be noted that the La Porte County Prosecuting Attorney is a political supporter of one or more of the defendant’s political challengers," King wrote.
"Mr. Lake in this case has a special interest in the outcome. He must prove that a statement alleged to have been made by Mr. Meer that his (Lake’s) office engaged in a conspiracy to target his (Meer’s) son for political reasons was false, not only as an element of the offense charged, but, one would assume, to avoid a significant tarnish to the professional and ethical reputation of his office and himself."
Less than two weeks after Bray was arrested, all three chiefs of the Michigan City Police Department resigned after the mayor ordered the department to withdraw from the Drug Task Force and reassign the officers who arrested Bray.
In his letter of resignation dated Oct. 22, former police chief Mark Swistek addressed Meer, saying: “Your directive to me ... to withdraw all cooperation and participation in the La Porte County Drug Task Force and to reassign the officers ... places the Michigan City community at unacceptable risk. I am simply unable to reconcile my oath of office with your directive…"
The mayor said he later withdrew the request, but the three chiefs still resigned – the charges were filed six days later. But King said an elected official cannot be charged with intimidation for giving an order to a subordinate.
Under Indiana law, Meer will be allowed to remain in office, and could be re-elected Tuesday, even though criminal charges have been filed.
However, if convicted of a felony, he would have to vacate the office, as recently happened with La Porte County Council member John Sullivan, who gave up his council seat in September after pleading guilty to residential entry.