Brizzi controversies loom over prosecutor's race

September 13, 2010
City-County Building

The specter of disgraced Marion County prosecutor Carl Brizzi looms large in the race to replace him.

Curry Curry

Democrat Terry Curry is more than willing to discuss Brizzi; Republican Mark Massa wishes he’d fade away. They agree, however, that Brizzi’s behavior means change is drastically needed in the prosecutor’s office.

Curry puts it this way: “There’s no doubt whatsoever that the No. 1 challenge for the next prosecutor is . . . to restore trust and confidence in the office.”

Massa Massa

Says Massa: “It’s the single biggest challenge that the next prosecutor faces—that is, restoring public confidence not only in the prosecutor’s office but in law enforcement writ large.”

Actually, Massa, 49, and Curry, 61, agree on a remarkable number of issues. They split, of course, on who is the better person for the job.

“I bring more experience relevant to the job than any first-time candidate who has ever sought this office,” said Massa, who has been a state or federal prosecutor for 13 of the 20 years that he has been a lawyer.

“Everybody’s looking for the same thing in a race like this, whether they’re Republican or Democrat or independent. They’re looking for the right person with the right experience and the right temperament for the job. I think I’m that person; if I didn’t, I wouldn’t have decided to run.”

Massa also was general counsel to Gov. Mitch Daniels for five years; a second-in-command to the chairman of the Republican State Party; a law clerk for Chief Justice Randall Shepard; and, briefly, a private-practice attorney. Before he became a lawyer, he was a speechwriter for Gov. Robert D. Orr.

“It is not fair to make the conclusion that Mark Massa is linked to Carl in a direct sense,” said Curry, who was a Marion County deputy prosecutor for six years and a private attorney for more than 20. “To me, the more pertinent question in electing a new prosecutor is, who has a career that is free of any sort of political allegiances and connections and whose career is characterized by several political appointments and associations?”

Brizzi has made headlines for months for questions—many raised by IBJ—about whether he has shown favoritism to business partners and their clients and pursued personal profit over public responsibilities. He also is close friends and has done business with financier Tim Durham, who is under federal criminal investigation.

Curry said that he has been “surprised by the depth of feelings I’ve encountered around the county” about Brizzi’s behavior and that of some members of the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department. The issues converged recently when Brizzi dismissed drunken-driving charges against Officer David Bisard, who drove his police cruiser into a group of motorcycles, killing one person and critically injuring two others.

Massa and Curry each said he would review the Bisard case after taking office in January, assuming it has not been resolved by then.

Experience. Curry said experience clearly is not an issue in the race; both candidates have it in spades.

Massa touted the breadth of his experience, including winning convictions in two capital murder cases  and at least four trials as an assistant U.S. attorney. He also was chief counsel under prosecutor Scott Newman, “the best possible training one could have for being the prosecutor. It’s the job that’s closest to the actual position. I was his adviser on virtually all matters relevant to his duties,” including criminal prosecutions, administrative matters and public outreach.

Curry served two stints totaling six years as a deputy Marion County prosecutor, primarily handling white-collar and corruption cases. He noted the importance of that experience because the Marion County prosecutor is the principal watchdog of state government.

“How many times in the last eight years have we read about, heard about any significant white-collar-crime case or political corruption case? I think the answer to that is seldom, if ever,” he said. “I think the corresponding question is, have we been very fortunate that that sort of conduct is not going on or has someone been asleep at the wheel?”

He said he believes the latter is true.

Pet issues. Massa said that one way to improve the image of law enforcement is to step up training of both deputy prosecutors and police officers. He also wants to focus on burglaries and would ask the Legislature to make burglary sentences non-suspendable—that is, someone convicted of burglary would have to receive at least six years in prison.

Curry wants to expand the role of community prosecutors, who keep offices in police districts, so that they can focus more heavily on being liaisons with police officers and the community. He would be more aggressive in disseminating statistics about crime, convictions and the like to neighborhood associations. He also wants to investigate alternative ways to deal with juvenile offenders that hold them responsible for their behavior but do not necessarily send them through the criminal-justice system.

Their concepts of justice. Curry noted that the Indiana Supreme Court’s ethical guidelines for lawyers include one rule that pertains only to prosecutors—that they shall seek justice. That means, he said, that “the role of prosecutor is to seek the truth. Your role is not to be an advocate for a conviction at all costs whatsoever. Instead, your role as prosecutor is to determine what’s truth, what’s justice, and apply it fairly across the board. ... Justice, in my mind, requires that you be just as motivated to prosecute those who would scam and cheat people through sophisticated crime as you are about street crime.”

For Massa, justice in a post 9-11 world requires law enforcement officials to walk a tightrope between public safety and private liberty. “I look upon the prosecutor’s job as one where you have to walk that line constantly,” he said. “I think it’s part of your public duties to explain that line sometimes to the general public and why things happen the way they do and why a case gets handled the way it does on occasion. There are moments where that responsibility arises and you’ve got to be up to the task.”



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