Special prosecutor to hear Sullivan case
MICHIGAN CITY – A special prosecutor will be appointed to try the criminal case against County Councilman John Sullivan, who appeared for his initial court hearing on Thursday.
The two-month delay between Sullivan’s arrest and his initial hearing in La Porte Superior Court 1 is a result of judges in La Porte Circuit Court and La Porte Superior Courts 2, 3 and 4 either recusing themselves or declining to hear the case.
Sullivan was charged with residential entry – a Level 6 felony – on Aug. 3, after a 911 caller told police he witnessed Sullivan entering a 39-year-old Wanatah woman’s house while she was away.
The La Porte County Sheriff’s Department responded to the scene, but turned the case over to the Indiana State Police, citing a conflict of interest in investigating a county official.
Defense attorney Scott Pejic petitioned the judge Thursday to appoint a special prosecutor on the basis that it would be a conflict for La Porte County Prosecutor John Espar to try a case against a person in a position to vote for or against any financial requests Espar’s office might make to the County Council, among other reasons.
Espar, who was present in court, did not object to the motion and offered to provide the court with a list of senior prosecutors who may be able to take over the case.
Judge Michael Bergerson granted the motion for a new prosecutor and scheduled Sullivan to return for an omnibus hearing on Nov. 29.
Sullivan, who faces up to 2.5 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000 if convicted, remains free on $750 cash bond.
He will continue to serve on the council until the case is decided.
Last week, Jim Rice, a Republican candidate for the District 2 council seat, called for the council to launch a special investigation and place Sullivan on administrative leave pending resolution of the criminal case.
But Council President Randy Novak, Rice’s opponent in the Nov. 6 election, said no one on the council is in a position to investigate Sullivan or place him on leave, saying he is an elected official, not an at-will employee.
“I’m in no position of authority over him,” Novak said. “Now, if he’s found guilty of a felony, he can be removed by the state election board. … we just have to let the process play itself out. People are presumed innocent until they’re convicted.”
Pejic agreed with Novak’s assessment of the situation.
“None of these allegations have anything to do with Mr. Sullivan’s official responsibilities as a county councilman,” the attorney said. “There is nothing for the County Council to investigate. Any investigation – under the law – is conducted by the state police working with the prosecutor’s office.”