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Thursday, June 18, 2009

Ind. Courts - More on: Vanderburgh County judge delays Hatch Act ruling

Updating this ILB entry from Jan. 9th that included this quote from the Evansville Courier & Press:

The next move in a Vanderburgh County Republican Party lawsuit seeking to oust a newly elected Democratic officeholder is to wait.

Pending the outcome of a guiding case in Terre Haute, Ind., a local judge Thursday delayed indefinitely his ruling on whether County Commissioner Steve Melcher was ineligible to seek office last year under the Little Hatch Act.

Today Eric Bradner writes in the C&P:
In a decision expected to resolve questions about a Vanderburgh County official's election as well, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled this week that Terre Haute Mayor Duke Bennett was eligible to hold that position even though he had worked for a nonprofit agency that received federal funding before taking office.

It ended a 19-month saga over whether Bennett should be disqualified from the office under the federal Little Hatch Act, which restricts political activity of federal employees and some employees who work for agencies that receive federal funding. The state high court's decision is expected to settle a dispute over a Vanderburgh County Commissioner's election, too.

The Vanderburgh County Republican Party has argued that Steve Melcher, who was elected to the County Commissioners in November, was ineligible for the office.

Melcher is facilities director for the Community Action Program of Evansville, a nonprofit agency that runs a federally funded Head Start early childhood and health program. * * *

On Tuesday the Indiana Supreme Court ruled Bennett can keep the office even though he violated the federal law while he was a candidate. A Vanderburgh County court has delayed ruling on whether Melcher was eligible for his office until Bennett's case was decided. Circuit Judge Carl Heldt said he would revisit the county GOP's challenge to Melcher's election after that decision was delivered.

Previously, attorneys for Melcher and the Vanderburgh County Republican Party had agreed the Indiana Supreme Court decision in Bennett's case should settle the Melcher dispute as well.

In his opinion June 16th, Justice Dickson wrote:
Clearly this disqualifier is inapplicable to establish ineligibility in a post-campaign election contest. From the time Burke filed his election contest action to Bennett's anticipated assumption of the position of Mayor, it is undisputed that Bennett was no longer a candidate. From the undisputed facts, it was thus impossible for Burke to establish that Bennett "is subject to" and "would violate" the Little Hatch Act "by becoming or remaining" a candidate, the elements for disqualification under section (5)(c) of the disqualification statute, upon which Burke predicated his election contest.
Evansville had two "copy-cat" lawsuits, both filed by defeated candidates, according to this Nov. 22, 2008 ILB entry. "County Commissioners President Jeff Korb dropped his lawsuit days after filing it," according to a story quoted in this Nov. 30, 2008 ILB entry.

Here is a list of all the ILB "Little Hatch Act" entries.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on June 18, 2009 09:02 AM
Posted to Ind. Sup.Ct. Decisions