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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Ind. Decisions - "The long and contentious battle to settle Terre Haute’s 2007 mayor’s election is over"

So reads the lede today to this story by Arthur E. Foulkes in the Terre Haute Tribune-Star. The case, of course, is Kevin D. Burke v. Duke Bennett, summaried in this ILB entry yesterday. Some quotes from the lengthy story:

The Indiana Supreme Court on Tuesday handed down a unanimous decision, affirming Duke Bennett as the elected mayor of the city. * * *

The Indiana Supreme Court heard the case of Burke v. Bennett on May 28 in the state capitol building in Indianapolis. On Tuesday, less than three weeks later, the court handed down a 5-0 ruling that agreed with a ruling made more than a year ago by Vigo County Superior Court Judge David Bolk. Bolk’s ruling stated Bennett could lawfully take office as mayor despite violating the Hatch Act while he was a candidate.

Tuesday’s high court decision, written by Justice Brent Dickson, stated that Burke’s challenge to Bennett’s candidacy under the Hatch Act came too late. According to Indiana law, Dickson wrote, a Hatch Act violation can only prevent someone from becoming a candidate for office or remaining a candidate. It does not apply to someone after an election is over since that person is no longer a candidate, the court found.

“Clearly this disqualifier is inapplicable to establish ineligibility in a post-campaign election contest,” Dickson’s six-page decision states.

After making this narrow legal point, Dickson then draws on what he calls “the long-standing respect for the right of the people to free and equal elections and the reluctance of this Court to remove from office a person duly elected by the voters.” Dickson then quotes a 1958 Indiana Supreme Court decision in which it was stated that the “will of the people in the choice of public officers may not be defeated by any merely formal or technical objections.” * * *

The Indiana Supreme Court is the third court to hear Burke v. Bennett. After Bolk’s 2007 ruling that Bennett could take office, Burke appealed that ruling to the Indiana Court of Appeals. In November, the appeals court overturned Bolk’s decision and called for a special election to settle the matter. Both Burke and Bennett appealed that ruling to the Indiana Supreme Court.

The high court’s decision apparently will be the final judicial ruling in the case. Burke said Tuesday he has no plans to appeal the ruling. The next step would have been to appeal the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“I’ve done all I can do,” he said, sitting on the front porch of his Collett Park neighborhood home. “I don’t see any more steps.” Burke had said earlier he would not appeal an Indiana Supreme Court ruling. “I meant what I said.”

Posted by Marcia Oddi on June 17, 2009 08:20 AM
Posted to Ind. Sup.Ct. Decisions