Slings and arrows continue in county govt. fray as Espar responds to Mollenhauer

EDITOR’S NOTE: This commentary from LaPorte County Prosecutor John Espar is in response to a commentary released Aug. 13 by LaPorte County Councilman Mike Mollenhauer (read that commentary at http://whatsnewlaporte.com/2018/08/13/mollenhauer-blasts-espar-for-not-recusing-himself-from-sullivan-case-cites-contradictions).

The ugly face of public corruption can be found in many forms in LaPorte County. And regrettably, County Councilman Mike Mollenhauer shamelessly placed on public display one such face of corruption

Espar

when he issued a “press release” blindly and publicly defending criminally accused Councilman John Sullivan and previously accused former Commissioner David Decker. Mollenhauer’s statement is deceitful, dishonest, and outright hypocritical as he levels a personal attack upon the integrity of a prosecutor who dares to do his duty against the politically powerful, while reflecting the corrupt “protect your own at all costs” attitude that has plagued LaPorte County politics by a few for far too long.  

The least of the deceptions in the Councilman’s press release is the suggestion that this LaPorte County Prosecutor is refusing to allow a special prosecutor, knowing I have taken no such position. In this Prosecutor’s only previous public statement I explained the constitutional differences between the Prosecuting Attorney and Sheriff and that the law anticipates those times when a prosecutor may have to bring criminal charges against an elected official, such that the Sheriff’s request for an outside investigation does not equate to the need for a special prosecutor to decide to bring charges. I quoted at length the law entitling John Sullivan as an elected official to a special prosecutor after charges have been filed. As expected, Mr. Sullivan’s attorney has made the request and at the appropriate time and place, this Prosecutor will agree to the appointment of a special prosecutor.

I will agree to a special prosecutor for the same reason I agreed to a special prosecutor in the case against then-Commissioner Decker – because the public statements of the defendant through his attorney alleged that the charges were born of a political motive and – though false – have created a public debate that will likely persist throughout the prosecution of the defendant and distract from the only legal question before the court – whether the defendant committed the crime of which he is accused. As such, the interests of justice are served by the appointment of a special prosecutor.

Far more concerning is the hypocrisy surrounding former Sheriff Mollenhauer’s acknowledgment that Sheriff Boyd correctly recused himself from the investigation of Councilman Sullivan and condemnation of the current Prosecutor for not following his lead. Wasn’t it only a few years ago that the Sheriff’s office of then-Sheriff Mollenhauer led the criminal investigation of former County Commissioner Milsap? And wasn’t that at a time when Sheriff Mollenhauer’s friend, disgraced former Prosecutor Szilagyi, occupied the prosecutor’s office? One cannot help but wonder why Sheriff Mollenhauer didn’t recuse his department from the investigation. And one cannot help but wonder why Sheriff Mollenhauer didn’t demand the appointment of a special prosecutor (before or after) Szilagyi refused to file charges against their colleague. Ultimately, one cannot help but wonder whether Sheriff-now-Councilman Mollenhauer has a double standard: one for his friends when the kind of “above the law” prosecutor whose “above the law” attitudes lead the Supreme Court to remove him from office and suspend him from the practice of law; and another standard when his friends encounter a prosecutor who believes no one is above the law, least of all those who seek and hold those sacred positions of public trust – our public officials.

Mr. Mollenhauer’s press release boasts his years in law enforcement, like brandishing a badge in search of “professional courtesy.” But as a man who made a career in law enforcement, Mr. Mollenhauer seems to have forgotten that the investigations of law enforcement and the charges arising from those investigations are not tried in the courts of public opinion. They are tried in courts of law. John Sullivan is an innocent man, who stands accused of a serious crime. The presumption of innocence follows him throughout the process and is not overcome until proven guilty in a court of law. As a prosecutor who respects the rights of Mr. Sullivan and the process ahead, I will not speak to the facts, strengths or weaknesses of the case. One would think Mr. Mollenhauer – a man oblivious to the investigative work that makes up the case of State vs. Sullivan – would afford the criminal justice system more respect than to attempt to influence that process with his public opinions, artificially propped up by his previous law enforcement career.

As a former law enforcement officer and sitting member of local government, Mr. Mollenhauer’s attempt to discredit the investigation and charge against John Sullivan as “nonsense” which “could have been charged as a misdemeanor or not at all” is appalling, coming from a man of the law. But his dishonesty concerning the now-closed case of State vs. David Decker, characterizing the case as “so weak it was ultimately dismissed” and the Prosecutor’s motivations as political, is not only an apparent attempt to deceive the public concerning the overwhelming “caught on camera” strength of the Decker case, but an attempt to discredit and defame this Prosecutor.

When the sworn duty of this Prosecutor demanded he file charges against Dave Decker for leaving the scene of an accident and failing to report it, Mr. Decker’s campaign sign sat in this Prosecutor’s front yard. And as unfortunate as timing may have been for Mr. Decker given the election cycle, David Decker – not John Espar – chose the time, when he chose the time of his actions.

Reviewing the case history, Mr. Decker’s case was not dismissed due to the insufficiency of the evidence as Mr. Mollenhauer claims. The case was disposed under a “Pretrial Diversion Agreement.” A Pretrial Diversion Agreement is common in first-offender misdemeanor cases like Decker’s and generally requires the defendant to pay fees, make restitution, commit no new crimes during an established period of time, and “earn” a dismissal by complying with those terms. Such was the disposition of case of State vs. Decker, as reflected in the public record – the same public record available to Mr. Mollenhauer which he either disregarded or distorted before making his inexcusably inaccurate and agenda-driven public comments.

Mr. Mollenhauer’s apparent expectation that David Decker, as a sitting Commissioner in the days before his re-election bid, should never have been charged, when any other citizen on the same day for the same conduct would have been charged, seems to reflect the “above the law” kind of corruption that no public official should reflect, and LaPorte County can do without.

(Nothing in this response should in any way detract from these cornerstones to our system of justice — that a criminal charge is merely an allegation and every person is presumed innocent of the charge against him unless the State proves him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.)

John M. Espar

Office of the Prosecuting Attorney of LaPorte County, Indiana

2 Responses to “Slings and arrows continue in county govt. fray as Espar responds to Mollenhauer”

  1. Sandy

    Aug 15. 2018

    There has always been a good ole boy mentality in LP and it will continue. Facts are bent to suit a person’s personal agenda. We want to raise our children and teach them that there are consequences for their actions yet public officials seem exempt from this. Mr Espar has presented facts that can be verified and presented them in a mature, professional manner.

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  2. Jane Dough

    Aug 16. 2018

    I have read all the press releases issued recently and am confused why Espar would not take the high road? I thought a prosecutor or attorney have rules that prevent them from making statements that clearly to me are mean-spirited and meant to demean people that were not even involved in the recent events -Decker, Milsap, and Szilagyi. Why does he bring them into this?

    If Espar claims “corruption” then where are the charges for that against these people? Seems like he is just mad at the world and foaming at the mouth bc he lost his election and perhaps his daughter isn’t being well received on the campaign trail as a newly minted “republican”. Entire thing smells like the manure on the farms and Espar seems to be shoveling from the bigger pile. Sad days ahead, but I for one am so looking forward to Jan. 1st when we don’t have to read his loooonnngggg press releases any more except perhaps then we may find out what he has been hiding in his closets from the next prosecutor.

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