MICHIGAN CITY —After the last two judges in La Porte County recused themselves from hearing the criminal case against Michigan City Mayor Ron Meer on Friday, the case has been moved to Porter County.
And the mayor's attorney also filed a motion claiming the probable cause documents filed in the case do not warrant the mayor's arrest.
Late Friday, three days after the mayor was unseated by voters in the municipal election, a joint order was issued by Circuit Court Judge Thomas Alevizos, and Superior Court 3 Judge Jeffrey Thorne declining appointment as judge. Court records show the judges ordered the clerk to select a special judge from a list of judicial officers from other counties.
The case file has now been sent to Porter County Superior Court 6 Judge Jeffrey Thode in Portage for acceptance, according to court records.
Even before Thode decides whether he will accept the case, defense attorney Scott King of Merrillville filed a Memorandum of Law in Opposition to State's Request for Probable Cause Determination.
"It is a written argument to the court that the state's probable cause affidavit fails to demonstrate by a preponderance of evidence that my client committed a crime and therefore no warrant for arrest should issue," King said in an email Monday.
The outgoing mayor is charged with five felony counts of intimidation, one felony charge of official misconduct, and two misdemeanor counts of false informing resulting in a hindrance to law enforcement, according to court records.
La Porte County Superior Court 1 Judge Michael Bergerson, Superior Court 4 Judge Greta Friedman Sterling and Superior Court 2 Judge Richard Stalbrink had previously declined to accept the case, citing possible conflicts of interest.
The charges stem from the mayor’s alleged actions following the Oct. 10 arrest of his stepson, Adam Ross Bray, by the La Porte County Drug Task Force on felony charges of possession of heroin, possession of cocaine and possession of a firearm by a violent felon.
Bray remains in the La Porte County Jail on a $20,000 cash-only bond, with his next court date scheduled for Dec. 5 in Superior Court 1.
In the days following, Meer first accused La Porte County Prosecutor John Lake of “setting up” Bray for “political retaliation,” an allegation later repeated by the mayor’s attorney, Scott King of Merrillville.
And Tuesday night, speaking to reporters after his loss to Duane Parry in the mayoral election, Meer said: “It was – in my opinion – political sabotage. Or as my attorney, Scott King, has said, a ‘hatchet job.’ It’s easy to see through, in my opinion. And I believe that I’ll be exonerated of all the false charges anyway.”
Meer said a confidential informant in the case had come to his home and told him and his other son that Bray had been set up by the prosecutor and Task Force, according to court documents.
Lake denied the claim, saying his office “does not target people and the Drug Task Force does not target people” and that he was “shocked” by the allegation.
The following week, Meer contacted former police chief Mark Swistek and told him to end the Michigan City Police Department’s involvement with the Task Force and to reassign the officers involved in his arrest. Swistek and his top two assistants resigned over the request, and the chief also notified federal authorities and the prosecutor’s office of the request, court records show.
The intimidation charges in the case stem from the request by Meer to reassign the officers, putting them and the chief “in fear of retaliation,” according to court documents.
The false informing charges allege the mayor made up the allegations of a set-up by Lake, and statements that a confidential informant in the case came to his house were fabricated, according to court records.
The confidential informant, when interviewed by police, denied speaking to Meer or saying that Bray had been set up, according to court records. The probable cause document alleges Meer’s claim was “false information” which “substantially hindered the Michigan City Police Department investigation.”
The official misconduct charge is because Meer, in his official capacity as mayor, was charged with felonies and misdemeanors, court records show.
King said the intimidation charges will not hold up in court because an elected official cannot be charged with giving an order to a subordinate, even if the subordinate disagrees with the order.
King has also filed a motion for a special prosecutor in the case, calling the charges “nothing more (or less) than a political hatchet job by a Prosecuting Attorney that was not politically supported last year by my client and does not support my client now.”
The motion claims the possibility of Bray being set up “clearly involves the La Porte County Prosecutor’s Office and, potentially, all of its personnel as potential witnesses in this case.”
Lake said he could not comment on King’s statements, but said in an email that a hearing will be held on the motion and he “will be given the opportunity to be heard about the allegations made ... I am looking forward to that opportunity to demonstrate to the court that ... no actual conflict of interest exists.”
Meer will likely be allowed to complete remainder of his term, which ends in early January. If convicted of a felony, he would have to resign, but it unlikely the case would proceed that far by year’s end.