Freedom of Speech or How One Man Won The Right to Exercise the 1st Amendment

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Something extraordinary happened today for Delaware County. Justice was served on a golden platter.

As some of you know, Chris Hiatt of Citizens of Delaware County for Property Tax Repeal was indicted in April of ’09 on changes of election violation. (This blog has a few posts covering this topic in more detail.) Today, Special Judge Jay Toney dismissed the charges. Let’s do a quick background on how this all came about.

In November ’08 CDCPTR took out an ad in the local newspaper, The Star Press. The ad endorsed candidates from both parties which were believed to be citizen and taxpayer friendly based upon their platform and campaigns.

Within weeks of this ad, another group, ECIBT (East Central Indiana Building Trades) took offense and filed a complaint with the election board. Their chief complaint was the ad had no disclaimer. One would consider this a possible violation, of sorts, except for one little pesky detail. ECIBT did the same. They endorsed all Democrats, had no disclaimer and in fact they had no address.

After weeks of delay, the election board finally decided to serve papers notifying Mr. Hiatt he was summoned to appear before the election board. What happened at the hearing was just a lot of legalities and twisting and turning of Indiana State law until it became apparent to most, there was some hanky panky going on with the current election board.

In turn, a complaint was filed against ECIBT for the exact same violation. Lo and behold, the Delaware County Clerk recused himself, since he was trying to avoid the conflict of interest “thingy”. Of course, he sat on the board during Hiatt’s hearing. I am having a hard time understanding the definition of “conflict of interest” as it was presented by Mr. Craycraft.

The Delaware County prosecutor, Mr. Mark McKinney convened a grand jury and sure enough, but no surprise, Hiatt was indicted.

Some of you may be wondering what happened to the complaint against ECBIT for the exact same violation. One word. NOTHING.

Today however marks a milestone in Delaware County. Justice was served and served properly. Of course, we had to leave the county and get a special judge. Nonetheless, it is a good day.

Just for fun, I pulled together some quotes from the local newspapers on this dark time in our county’s history.

Judge Throws Hiatt’s Case Out
“In granting the motion to dismiss, the judge said the law as described to grand jurors by McKinney was the “exact opposite” of what actually exists.” Star Press 4-21-10

Attorney: McKinney Misled Grand Jury
“Two days before his client is set to stand trial, the attorney for a local government critic on Tuesday fired back at Mark McKinney, accusing the beleaguered Delaware County prosecutor of “deliberately and intentionally misleading (a grand jury) about the law.” Star Press 4-21-10

Criminal Acts and Selective Prosecution
“Politically based selective prosecution is wrong.” Larry Riley Star Press 4-21-10

Election board has no credibility
” It’s obvious, especially after Thursday’s vote to dismiss the complaint, that the election board, which has a sacred public duty to ensure elections are free from fraud, is not capable of performing this function as it is now constituted.” Muncie Star Press Editorial 2-6-09

The Election Board Has Lost Its Way by John H. Brooke“The Delaware County Election Board under the leadership of Phil Nichols and Steve Craycraft has lost sight of its mission and purpose. The mission of any election board is to help conduct elections so that voters are confident the entire process is fair and honest. Delaware County’s Election Board has decided that its real purpose is to serve as a weapon to beat down political opponents under the guise of “protecting the election process.” Muncie Star Press Letter to Editor 2-8-09

Another Menace Nabbed
“What was his great crime against humanity? He placed a newspaper ad endorsing candidates for the 2008 election. The ad listed the CDCPTR as the source of the endorsements and featured the group’s logo, but did not — get this recklessly dangerous practice — “have a formal disclaimer.” The man had the gall to exercise his First Amendment Rights — throw the bum in jail. While the clown princes of the political world and the punditocracy mull whether nude dancing should be “protected free speech,” this is the kind of crap that goes on almost without protest.” The News-Sentinel of Fort Wayne, Indiana 4-21-09

Watch video excerpts of the election board hearings.

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