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May 3, 2008

Division 5: Courtenay Scott case could decide Democrat nominee

TERRE HAUTE — The two Democrat candidates for judge of Vigo Superior Court Division 5 agree on almost everything except how the incumbent handled a single, contentious case in 2004.

Judge Barbara Brugnaux, who has been in the office for 14 years, is running against Dr. Michael Rader, a medical doctor and practicing attorney who hopes to unseat her in the primary.

Brugnaux was elected to Division 5 in 1996 and again in 2002 (after serving as temporary judge of the court from 1994 to 1996).

Rader, who practiced medicine for 30 years before earning his law degree, most recently has been serving as a public defender in Vigo County.

He has been practicing law for a little more than 10 years.

Division 5 court handles drug- and alcohol-related offenses, small claims, and other civil and criminal matters. The court also houses the Vigo County Alcohol and Drug Program, which was created in 1979 by the late Robert Howard Brown, then judge of Division 5. The program receives referrals from the court. It provides assessment, education, monitoring and referral services for cases involving offenders charged with or convicted of operating a vehicle while impaired, other drug charges or other criminal acts that involve alcohol and/or other drugs.

Brugnaux, the first female judge in Vigo County, has faced harsh criticism for her decision to accept a plea agreement in a case involving the death of a toddler.

The case was against ex-daycare provider Courtenay Scott, whose actions resulted in the death of 2-year-old Alexis Williams on May 22, 2002. A special prosecutor from Vanderburgh County recommended Scott spend no time in prison. Brugnaux accepted the agreement, and Scott was sentenced to two years probation for reckless homicide, a class-C felony.

Rader, in recent advertisements, has criticized what he calls Brugnaux’s “misunderstanding of the law.”

Rader pointed to one sentence in a letter Brugnaux sent in February to 7,000 Democrats in Vigo County, in which she stated, “It is a judge’s duty to review the terms of [the plea] agreement and accept that agreement if it complies with the law.”

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