Update on 2007 Terre Haute Mayor's race Hatch Act lawsuit
In a what may eventually become a landmark decision, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 in favor of former Mayor Kevin Burke, who filed a lawsuit claiming that his challenger, Duke Bennett, was ineligible to take office because he ran an illegal campaign that violated the state and local (little) Hatch Act.
The office of Terre Haute Mayor has officially been declared by the court to be vacant.
Mr. Bennett was the former director of operations at Hamilton Center Inc., a non-profit agency which operates an Early Head Start program that's funded in part by federal grants. Bennett claimed in earlier court documents that he was not a covered Hatch Act employee. The Appellate Court ruled otherwise.
The incumbent, Kevin Burke lost the mayoral race, but the court ruled he cannot take over as Mayor because voters weren't aware that Bennett wasn't eligible.
Indiana law prevents an individual who is removed from office from running for office again.
A special election may be held to fill the vacancy.
It is my understanding that Mr. Bennett is appealing the appellate court's ruling to the Indiana State Supreme Court.
Closer to home: On October 31, 2008, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) Hatch Act Division found that Mayor Dan Pike was guilty of violating the state and local Hatch Act during the 2007 Bellingham Mayor's election.
Mayor Pike told the media that his Hatch Act violation is an obscure technicality that does not in anyway affect the outcome of the 2007 election. I do not have an opinion on Mayor Pike's statement. (I'll leave the interpretation of the law to those who are licensed to practice law).
Interesting similarities regarding the Bennett/Pike Hatch Act Violations: the OSC determined that it did not have enough evidence to determine if Mayor Pike knowingly or willfully violated the Hatch Act.
Here's an excerpt from the Indiana Court of Appeals decision regarding Duke Bennett's ignorance of the law:
"Although the Court finds Bennett was subject to the Hatch Act, it is clear that the violation was not willful or intentional. Whether Bennett was blissfully ignorant, lulled into believing the Act did not apply to him by virtue of his three previous election bids (Primary 2003, General 2003 and Primary 2007), relied upon his own research, conversations with Hamilton Center CEO, discussions with his campaign committee, his conclusion that the Hatch Act does not apply to him was erroneous." (see pgs 10, 11).
Fascinating case. Latte Republic will continue to monitor the Burke v. Bennett appeals and provide periodic updates, as additional information becomes available. This case could go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
A copy of Mr. Paxton's letter (the complainant against Mr. Pike) can be found here: http://whatcomforum.blogspot.com/2008/11/us-office-of-special-counsel-letter-to.html
To read the Indiana Court of Appeals ruling on Burke v. Bennett, click here.
Background newspaper articles:
Indiana Statesman: http://media.www.indianastatesman.com/media/storage/paper929/news/2008/11/14/Community/Mayoral.Election.Overruled-3544190.shtml
Hoosier access: http://hoosieraccess.com/blog/2008/11/13/court-of-appeals-overturns-2007-terre-haute-mayoral-results/
FYI: sorry, no reader comments will be accepted on this post. I'm fed up with being attacked for reporting the news.