Sheriff John Buncich guilty on all counts

Former Lake County Sheriff John Buncich, from left, and his attorneys Larry Rogers and Bryan Truitt hold a press conference Aug. 24 outside the U.S. District Courthouse in Hammond after the guilty verdict. Buncich didn't speak. On Tuesday, Judge James Moody sentenced him to 188 months in prison.

Bill Dolan, The Times

Government officials and other community leaders have every right to show public support for convicted felons, through spoken or written word.

Columnists and editorial boards, in turn, have every right to criticize those officials and leaders for acting as apologists to people who have committed crimes against the public.

And in the end, the public has the right to know the identities of the apologists when their letters become a part of the court or other public record.

These are rudimentary concepts of the First Amendment, which includes the freedom of speech most of us begin learning about in grade school.

It also seems to be a difficult concept for some Region attorneys to comprehend.

In recent weeks, Times columnist and Editorial Page Editor Marc Chase has promised to publish the names of any public officials or community leaders who write letters to a U.S. District Court judge seeking leniency for former Lake County Sheriff John Buncich, who is now a convicted felon.

A federal jury convicted Buncich earlier this year of accepting bribes in exchange for steering towing work issued by the sheriff's office. Now he awaits sentencing, and his attorneys are seeking, and according to them receiving, letters of support for Buncich that they say eventually will be entered into the federal court record.

Knowing the deep-seated reputation for political corruption in Northwest Indiana, Chase has promised to publish the names of Buncich supporters, when they become available, as the public has a right to know.

It’s not a new practice. Chase also previously wrote a column taking several elected leaders to task for writing letters of support for former Lake County Surveyor George Van Til after Van Til was convicted of essentially stealing from taxpayers.

 Buncich's attorney Bryan Truitt has publicly criticized Chase's promise as an attack on his client's fair court proceedings.

Truitt has been joined by Merrillville attorney Geoffrey Giorgi and Lake County Bar Association President Adam Sedia in that criticism.

Region attorneys represented by the Lake County Bar Association should be especially leery of their president taking such stands against the First Amendment and the public's right to know.

"It is the height of hypocrisy for a news outlet to discourage individual citizens from exercising their rights to make their voices heard for fear of being publicly shamed...," Sedia said in a public statement about the matter.

But Sedia couldn't be more wrong.

Neither Chase nor The Times have any power to prevent anyone from exercising their right to support Buncich.

In our democracy, however, columnists and editorial boards have the right — and some would argue a duty — to call out any behavior that contributes to or defends public corruption.

In the end, elected officials must know that their actions — including defending political friends who are convicted felons — will be scrutinized.

No amount of legal grandstanding will stop that.

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Members of The Times Editorial Board are Publisher Christopher T. White, Editorial Page Editor Marc Chase, Editor Bob Heisse, Politics/History Editor Doug Ross and Managing Editor Erin Orr.