News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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March 31, 2010

Law prof: Councilman should be removed from office

Conviction of Terre Haute Councilman Turk Roman may set legal precedent

TERRE HAUTE — A Vigo County jury’s guilty verdict earlier this week may be setting legal precedent for a relatively new Indiana law.

On Tuesday evening, a jury found Turk Roman, who was elected to the Terre Haute City Council in 2007, guilty of impersonating a police officer, a class-D felony.

In 2008, the Indiana legislature passed a law requiring the immediate removal from office of any elected official found guilty of a felony by a jury. On Tuesday, a jury of six people returned a guilty verdict against Roman, a Democrat representing Terre Haute’s 2nd District, for the crime of impersonating a police officer, which is a class-D felony.

According to the new Indiana law, this would appear to require Roman’s immediate removal from his City Council seat, said Joel Schumm, a professor of law at Indiana University in response to questions posed in a telephone interview Wednesday with the Tribune-Star.

“I read it pretty clearly to suggest that he should be removed from office,” Schumm said.

Judge Matthew Headley of Putnam County has yet to sentence Roman. Indiana law allows judges to reduce class-D felonies to class-A misdemeanors. However, even if Headley takes that action, Roman could still be prohibited from holding the 2nd District council seat, Schumm noted.

“I would take [the law] to mean he should be removed right away [and] it doesn’t matter if it’s reduced to a misdemeanor or not,” Schumm said.

According to the law, “the subsequent reduction of a felony to a class-A misdemeanor … does not affect” the elected official’s removal from office.

The new law holds out only one possible way for Roman to be reinstated to his council seat, Schumm said. If Judge Headley reduces the conviction to a misdemeanor – and it is determined that Roman’s actions did not arise from his official duties as a member of the City Council – then Roman could be reinstated to office, he said.

“If the judge says that the felony was related to his official capacity, then even if it is reduced to a misdemeanor, he should be removed from office,” Schumm said.

As recently as 2007, the Indiana Attorney General’s office issued an official opinion stating that elected officials with felony convictions were not required to leave office. However, the law supporting that opinion was replaced by the stricter law in 2008. It appears Roman’s case is the first to involve the new law, Schumm noted.

Roman, reached Wednesday morning, deferred any comment on his status as a city councilman to his attorney, former Vigo County Prosecutor Bob Wright. Wright was unavailable for comment Wednesday.

Terre Haute City Attorney Chou-il Lee, reached Wednesday, said he was working on an official opinion in the case that was not yet available for publication.

The next meeting of the Terre Haute City Council is scheduled for April 8.

Arthur Foulkes can be reached at (812) 231-4232 or arthur.foulkes@tribstar.com.

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