Friday, March 4, 2016

Complaint against Dearborn Superior Court II for obstructing access to Grand Jury Records

This post is a must read to anyone interested in government transparency especially as it relates to the normally secretive grand jury process. The Dearborn County (IN) Superior Court II is refusing, in the absence of any statutory reason, to release the audio from a grand jury proceeding despite the grand jury exhibits and the transcription of the audio already being public record.

I filed a Formal Complaint to the Office of the Public Counselor for the State of Indiana regarding the refusal of the Dearborn County Superior Court II to release the audio record from a grand jury proceeding despite the transcripts of the proceedings already being public record. [In case of any doubts as to the record of the grand jury record being public, here are the transcripts from the proceedings.] Special Judge Brian Hill has issued three different orders regarding the release of the grand jury audio. In response to prior requests for public records, on January 12, 2012, Judge Hill ordered the court reporter to prepare compact disc recordings of the grand jury proceedings of February 28, 2011, March 1, 2011, and March 2, 2011. On February 2, 2012, Judge Hill issued a new order stating the grand jury audio was not admitted into evidence and since there were no audio recordings in the case, Hill rendered the request “moot.” When I requested the grand jury audio on January 29, 2016, Hill filed his February 4, 2016 order denying my request claiming “there’s been no sufficient reason set forth which would necessitate the release of said audio recordings”, despite Indiana statute requiring a public agency to “state the statutory exception authorizing the withholding of all or part of the public record.” The grand jury record is public because Hill admitted the transcripts as evidence during trial. Even holding that somehow the release of an audio record is different than the written record, Hill failed to mention how that affected the release of the audio. He just said I didn’t give a “good enough reason.”

The dirty secret is someone contacted Judge Hill and told him not to release the grand jury audio. Why else would Judge Hill suddenly remember three weeks later that no audio was admitted during trial? Hill also claimed a pretrial hearing on July 18, 2011 did not take place. So what is the problem? It appears that Dearborn County Prosecutor F. Aaron Negangard instructed Barbara Ruwe, court reporter for the Dearborn County Superior Court II, to transcribe only witness testimony and what Negangard wanted her to transcribe. [Barbara Ruwe is the court reporter for Judge Sally McLaughlin (formerly Blankenship). McLaughlin is the same judge who set my bond at $600K because the prosecution argued I did not respect the authority of the Courts.] There is no record of interaction between the grand jury and Prosecutor Negangard. The transcripts depict the jurors just appearing at the grand jury proceedings to listen to the first witness without any instruction. Negangard instructed the court reporter to prepare a transcript that was tailored to the advantage of the prosecution. A problem lies in the fact that during a pretrial hearing Deputy Prosecutor Joseph Kisor stated there was a complete transcript of the grand jury proceedings. Even more suspicious is that the pretrial hearing happened to occur on July 18, 2011; same pretrial hearing Judge Hill claimed to have never taken place. The hearing was later “found” when Judge Brian Hill was informed that people prepared affidavits attesting to their presence at the July 18th hearing. This is clearly a situation where if nobody has anything to hide then just produce the record. Stay tuned for more details.