Chesterton Tribune

Judge stays order ousting Indiana secretary of state

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Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) Charlie White can remain Indiana's secretary of state until a higher court has reviewed a decision ousting him from office, a judge ruled Wednesday.

Marion Circuit Judge Louis Rosenberg stayed his initial ruling ordering the state recount commission to certify Democrat Vop Osili as the winner of the November 2010 election pending the review. Osili secured the second highest vote tally in the poll.

Rosenberg ordered White's ouster Dec. 22 because of allegations that the Republican had been improperly registered as a candidate when he ran for office. Democrats had asked him to overturn a June decision by the Indiana Recount Commission that rejected their challenge to his candidacy.

White also faces a Jan. 30 criminal trial on charges that he lied about where he lived during the 2010 primary so he could remain on the Fishers Town Council. If convicted, he would automatically be removed from office. White maintains his innocence.

The two-page ruling released Wednesday said "the negative consequences would be great and irreparable" if Rosenberg denied the stay and his decision was later reversed. It also would "unnecessarily weaken" the secretary of state's office at a critical time when it must oversee the 2012 elections, the judge wrote.

Rosenberg rejected a plea by Democrats that he allow Osili to take the office if White is removed or resigns before a higher court can rule. Without such an order, they said, White's replacement might be appointed by Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels.

Rosenberg said there could be a controversy over how White's successor is selected if he is convicted of criminal charges, and that granting Democrats' proposal "unnecessarily injects the court into issues not before it."

Democratic attorney William Groth said the decision was "not at all surprising."

"In the event circumstances materially change while Mr. White's appeal is pending, we would anticipate asking the court to lift the stay immediately. However, like the court, we are unable to predict what further twists and turns this case will take," Groth said in an email to The Associated Press.

White's attorney, David Brooks, said he believed the judge's order was correct.

"His underlying ruling involves issues of tremendous public importance at a variety of levels that go beyond who should be secretary of state," Brooks said. He said those decisions should be made by a higher court.

Brooks argued during a hearing Tuesday that ousting White because he registered to vote where he lived instead of where he intended to live would have repercussions for thousands of ordinary voters.

Groth said Democratic lawyers had invited attorneys for White and the attorney general's office to join them in asking the Indiana Supreme Court to assume jurisdiction over the appeal so that the case could be promptly decided.

The attorney general's office and Brooks both said they were considering that option.

"I don't think there's any big rush now," said Brooks. "We have a little bit of breathing room."

The Democratic and Republican state party chairmen didn't immediately return phone calls and emails seeking comment Wednesday.

A Hamilton County grand jury indicted White in March on seven felony counts alleging that he used his ex-wife's address on voter registration and other documents while he actually lived at a condo where he intended to live with his new wife, and that he collected his council salary after moving out of the district he represented.

White has said the allegations ignored a complicated personal life in which he was trying to raise his 10-year-old son, plan his second marriage and campaign for statewide office.

Hamilton Superior Court Judge Steven Nation last month rejected White's motion to dismiss the seven felony counts and ruled that his trial in Noblesville begin Jan. 30.



Posted 1/4/2012