By BRIAN A. HOWEY

INDIANAPOLIS  — The mayor is up for reelection within month. His son is arrested on a drug possession charge, making local headline news.

In a rational world, a prudent police chief or sheriff would have immediately sought to have the case handed off to the Indiana State Police. If there were to be charges, a prudent prosecutor probably would have opted for a special prosecutor, to ensure there were no signs of impropriety.

But none of that happened in Michigan City and LaPorte County this past week.

Instead, Democratic Mayor Ron Meer found himself in a showdown with his own police chief, who resigned, along with senior staff following the arrest of his stepson on Oct. 10 by the LaPorte County Drug Task Force.

On Oct. 13, Meer issued a statement saying Republican LaPorte County Prosecutor John Lake had been behind the arrest, targeting his son for political reasons. “... It is a very dangerous time in LaPorte County when the prosecutor, John Lake, can have your family members targeted for political retaliation and gain,” he said. 

The mayor had threatened to pull his police force out of the county drug task force. Then Prosecutor Lake ended up filing five felony official misconduct and intimidation charges against the mayor, and two misdemeanors for false informing.

The charges were made public last Friday, and at least two judges recused. Lake told the Michigan City News-Dispatch, ”Since they both recused, it goes back to the clerk to send to the next judge up in the rotation to accept conflicts. “I don’t know which judge is next in the rotation. Once they get the case they will need to review for probable cause, and once that happens, a warrant will be issued if they find probable cause for the charges.” 

By Tuesday, Meer lost his reelection bid to Republican Duane Parry by 76 votes. On Wednesday, a third judge recused himself from taking on the criminal case against the mayor, this time Judge Michael Bergerson of LaPorte County Superior Court 1 in Michigan City, according to the News-Dispatch.

On Monday, Meer’s attorney, former Gary mayor Scott King, was declaring a “politically driven hatchet job” and vowed to file a motion to dismiss.

“My preliminary review of the charges demonstrates that they are poorly drafted and, I believe, subject to a Motion to Dismiss,” King told the News-Dispatch. “I firmly believe that none of the charges can be sustained in court.” 

King added he was “flabbergasted by what appears to be 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. I have news for Mr. Lake: Prosecutors have a higher obligation to the law and ethics of the legal profession than they do to elections and politics. That is not, sadly, what has happened here and appears to be the worst breach of ethics and professionalism that I have seen in the 43 years I have been an attorney. In an effort to stop any further improprieties by Mr. Lake and his office, I am filing the accompanying Motion for the Appointment of a Special Prosecutor that I hope will be heard and granted expeditiously by whatever court assumes jurisdiction of this case.”

Lake told the News-Dispatch he could not comment on King’s statements, but said in an email that a hearing will be held on the motion for a special prosecutor 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.”

So this is a case that will likely stay in the headlines for weeks and months ahead.

Election eve legal hijinks have happened before. Fort Wayne Mayor Win Moses had homicide charges filed against his brother just days before his 1987 reelection bid. It was payback for his guilty plea on a campaign finance charge which prompted his resignation. But Moses filed for and won a Democratic caucus 10 days later.

Just the filing of the charge changed the entire nature of his race against Republican Paul Helmke. Moses said his poll numbers collapsed. He lost, and the charges against his brother were later dropped.

Before this is all said and done, don’t be surprised if the Indiana Supreme Court’s Disciplinary Commission ends up taking a look at this case, including Lake’s conduct.

Only once in modern history has the Supreme Court negated a municipal election. That occurred in 2003 on the 1999 election in East Chicago, where Mayor Robert Pastrick had defeated his former police chief Stephen Stiglich during the “sidewalks for votes” scandal. There was rampant fraud and absentee voting, the Supreme Court determined, prompting the high court to intervene.

With the new election ordered up, Pastrick was defeated by another former police chief, George Pabey, ending what was the last political dynasty in The Region.