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Indiana high court takes over secretary of state dispute

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The Indiana Supreme Court on Tuesday decided to take over the legal battle in which Democrats are trying to have convicted Republican Secretary of State Charlie White replaced by their 2010 candidate for that office.

The state's highest court set a Feb. 29 hearing for arguments over whether Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels should be allowed to appoint a replacement for White or Democratic candidate Vop Osili should take over the office.

The Supreme Court also denied without comment a request that lawyers for the state Democratic Party made Monday to the state appeals court that it enforce a Marion County judge's December decision in a civil case ordering the state recount commission to declare Osili as the election winner.

That action followed a Hamilton County jury's verdict over the weekend convicting White of six felony criminal charges, including voter fraud for lying about his residence by using his ex-wife's Fishers address on voter registration forms. Democrats have maintained in the civil case that White wasn't an eligible candidate for the 2010 election and that Osili was the eligible candidate who received the most votes.

Democratic Party lawyer Karen Celestino-Horseman said she was pleased that the Supreme Court decided to take over the case and that by setting the hearing for this month it could prevent a long period of uncertainty over who should lead the secretary of state's office, which responsibilities includes oversight of elections.

Daniels on Saturday named the office's top counsel, Jerry Bonnet, as interim secretary of state, but indicated he would wait until after White's Feb. 23 sentencing hearing to decide on a permanent appointment. White's defense attorney said he will ask the judge to reduce the convictions to misdemeanors, which would allow White's return to office.

The state attorney general's office had asked for an expedited review from the state Supreme Court.

"What the public needs now is an objective and unambiguous ruling from the Indiana Supreme Court to bring certainty, clarity and finality to this situation, 15 months after the election. It was highly unusual for a trial court to overrule a unanimous administrative decision of the Recount Commission in a statewide election, so at the very least the trial court's ruling ought to be reviewed by the state's highest court," Attorney General Greg Zoeller said in a statement.

The attorney general's office is representing the state recount commission, which found White's candidacy was legitimate in a 3-0 vote last June.

Celestino-Horseman said she hoped Daniels wouldn't take quick action between White's sentencing hearing and a decision by the Supreme Court.

"Obviously the governor can make any choice he wants, but since we know there is going to be an expedited decision by the Supreme Court nothing is lost by waiting," she said.

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