Legal Issues and State Government and Government & Economic Development and Government and Law

Closing arguments under way in White trial

February 3, 2012

Closing arguments are under way at the voter fraud trial of Indiana's elections chief in a case that could oust him from office.

Special prosecutor Dan Sigler Jr. argued Friday morning in Hamilton County Superior Court that Secretary of State Charlie White knowingly committed voter fraud for political power.

White's attorney, Carl Brizzi, said in his closing arguments that prosecutors' case "is based entirely on assumption, innuendo and leaps." The jury is expected to begin deliberating after Friday's closing arguments.

White is charged with seven felony counts, including fraud, perjury and theft. If White is convicted of a single count, he faces removal from office and possible prison time.

Prosecutors claim White used his ex-wife's address on his voter registration form in the May 2010 Republican primary when he actually had a condo elsewhere with his fiancée. Brizzi rested Thursday without presenting a case againsthe charges.

The strategy employed by White's lawyer, Carl Brizzi, is risky, said a professor at the Indiana University School of Law at Indianapolis.

Fran Watson, who teaches a criminal defense clinic, said the strategy can work if jurors are unconvinced by the prosecutors' case, but she isn't sure it was wise in White's case.

"It is a sound strategy in that it's always the prosecutor's burden to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt," Watson said.

But, she added, "With seven counts, it's a little hard to believe it's going to work," as the more counts there are against a defendant, the greater the odds that jurors will find him guilty of at least one.

White would be immediately removed from office if jurors find him guilty, said Fred Biesecker, an attorney at Ice Miller who handles government and election law cases.

State law says that any "public officer ...shall be removed from office...when ...a jury publicly announces a verdict against the person for a felony."

The same law says the official can return to office if the conviction is reversed on appeal, he said.

Prosecutors claim White used his ex-wife's address on his voter registration form in the May 2010 Republican primary when he actually had a condo elsewhere with his fiancee. They also say he continued to collect a salary for a council position after he had moved from the district he was supposed to represent.

White, 42, has said the charges he faces ignore a complicated personal life in which he was trying to raise his 10-year-old son, plan his second marriage in May 2010 and campaign for the statewide office he won that November. He said he stayed at his ex-wife's house when he wasn't on the road campaigning and did not live in the condo until after his remarriage.

White has resisted calls to resign from Democrats and Republicans, including Gov. Mitch Daniels.

In December, a Marion County judge ruled that White should be ousted, but that decision has been appealed. The same judge also said White should be replaced by Vop Osili, the Democrat he defeated in the November 2010 election by about 300,000 votes; state law calls for Daniels to appoint a successor.

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