One of the great dangers that exists within our present political system is the significant role raising money has played in the ability for a candidate to be elected. The disproportionate amount of time elected officials must devote to raising campaign monies for a re election bid is both unproductive to society and unsavory for many otherwise qualified individuals who remove themselves from consideration.
Most attention in this area has been spent focused on presidential and congressional elections. However, a more insidious localized threat to the very fabric of our criminal justice system is prone to attack when prosecutors and/or judges become beholden to the campaign dollar in order to preserve their employment.
Recently in Indianapolis the building blocks toward a potential federal prosecution mounted against former Marion County Prosecutor Carl Brizzi are being built piece by piece based upon a circumstantial assessment of his actions as prosecutor; actions that many have surmised were motivated more by financial gain than the interests of justice.
Over the past few months the common thread in the Brizzi investigation has been the role money has played in explaining the decision making process of this former prosecutor.
The first shoe to drop was the plea deal reached by a former Indianapolis defense attorney who has handled numerous cases within Marion County. The attorney will ostensibly be required to testify under oath as to how former prosecutor Brizzi was able to land a sweetheart financial deal from this gentlemen whereby prosecutor Brizzi would acquire a one half ownership interest in an Elkhart office building slated for lease to a governmental agency. The ownership stake was of particular interest to federal prosecutors due to the alleged reports indicating that Brizzi was required to put none of his own money into the deal so as to secure a fifty percent ownership interest in the office building.
What former prosecutor Brizzi was expected to offer in return for this attorney’s largesse is no doubt one of the pending central themes focused on by prosecutors during this purported pending investigation. However, as weeks have gone by since reports of the above referenced plea deal, many local Indianapolis pundits had begun to question the potential strengths of any criminal allegations to be mounted against the former prosecutor.
The absolute requirement that public confidence be extended to our justice system is such that a federal prosecutor must tread very carefully before publicly impugning the integrity and ethical conduct of a former elected prosecutor. In the weeks that have passed many have questioned whether Brizzi was to escape further scrutiny in the interests of preserved public confidence or in fact nearing the precipice of an announced prosecution to be furthered against him.
This week the answer seems to be the latter with the publicly declared plea deal now reached between prosecutors and Brizzi’s former Chief of Staff, David Weyser.
Following a familiar pattern, alleged financial considerations in securing re election for Brizzi in Marion County and an election run for prosecutor by Weyser in Hamilton County have lead to scrutiny of a modified sentence of a convicted killer.
It is reported that Weyser’s plea will in effect speak to a quid pro quo for the murderer’s bid for a modification of sentence in return for thousands of dollars from the convicted defendant’s father earmarked for Brizzi and Weyser’s respective election campaigns.
As a defense attorney what is of great interest to me within these reported developments is the willingness for Weyser to admit guilt for conduct that is otherwise defensible political fund raising activity or arguably the immune discretionary conduct of a deputy prosecutor. By way of speculation, it will be curious to discover the evidentiary link that prosecutors have up their sleeve sufficient to dissuade Weyser from mounting a legal defense in challenging bribery allegations.
In many such bids for modification, it is extremely difficult for law enforcement to establish firm evidentiary footing by which to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a prosecutor’s actions to modify a sentence were prompted by financial payment.
Weyser’s willingness to admit guilt in the modification episode does not speak favorably to Brizzi’s future likelihood of escaping a public prosecution. Through the successful prosecution of those within Brizzi’s inner circle, U.S. Attorney Joe Hogsett has deliberately begun to assemble further pieces to connect this evidentiary puzzle against Brizzi should witness testimony allow.
Irrespective of whether this prosecutor faces criminal prosecution in deliberating the merits and motivations of his decisions as prosecutor, the prospect of a looming indictment of a publicly elected prosecutor is one none of us should savor.
Although there may be short term glee among many who believe such a prosecution demonstrates that true justice for all is not just a platitude, the long term damage to our public confidence and institutions entrusted to administer justice may be irreparably damaged.
So as to prevent future financial entanglements from even potentially playing a role in the administration of justice, true campaign reform must be debated. Such reform will not only enable society to benefit from the most able potential leaders, but will allow for deliberate attention to the administration of justice and not the continued pre occupation with funding a continued assault of negative campaign commercials unleashed upon the voting public.