INDIANAPOLIS — Former Indiana Schools Superintendent Tony Bennett has hired a pair of top criminal defense attorneys to fight charges he misused state resources to campaign for office, including the lawyer who helped write some of the ethics laws Bennett is accused of violating.
Larry Mackey and Jason Barclay, lawyers with the Indianapolis powerhouse firm Barnes and Thornburg, are representing Bennett before the State Ethics Commission. Barclay helped draft an overhaul of state ethics laws in 2005 while working as a lawyer for former Gov. Mitch Daniels. And Mackey built a national profile prosecuting Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh before taking over the white-collar defense arm of Barnes and Thornburg.
The ethics commission not only could banish Bennett from future state work in Indiana but also could refer the case to Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry for a criminal investigation. Tasking state employees with doing political work, dubbed "ghost employment" is a minor felony punishable by up to three years in prison.
Having powerhouse lawyers on his side could help reduce any punishment against Bennett, said David Orentlicher, co-director of the Hall Center for Law and Health at Indiana University's McKinney School of Law. Barclay in particular could be valuable, he said, because he helped craft the 2005 ethics legislation that, among many other things, established the position of inspector general and rewrote parts of the code Bennett is alleged to have broken.
Mackey defended politically connected developer John Bales against federal charges that he defrauded the state in a leasing scheme. A federal jury found Bales not guilty on all 13 counts last February.
But the team could have trouble defending against the actual charges Bennett faces because his violations seem clear, said Orentlicher, a former Democratic state representative who served from 2002-2008.
"It's hard to see it in this case. If it's really true he did use state resources and staff for political purposes, that's a pretty bright line," he said.