MICHIGAN CITY — The city's mayor is facing six felonies and two misdemeanors five days before the general election.
An attorney who may be representing the mayor said the case "has a smell to it."
Michigan City Mayor Ron Meer was charged this week with two counts of false informing resulting in substantial hindrance to a law enforcement process, five counts of intimidation and one count of official misconduct as a public servant, LaPorte Superior Court records show.
Meer, who is seeking a third term, directed questions about the charges to attorney Scott King, a former mayor of Gary whose legal practice is in Merrillville. King said Friday he had not yet been hired to represent Meer but is scheduled to meet with the mayor Saturday.
King also said he had not thoroughly reviewed the allegations. But based on what he knows, King said he has "no idea what the prosecutor was thinking when he brought these charges."
"I find it absolutely incredible that any reputable prosecutor would ask for charges on the eve of an election,’’ King said. "This really has a smell to it."
However, the LaPorte County prosecutor said there's no connection between the criminal charges and the election.
"The case has absolutely nothing to do with any election,’’ Prosecutor John Lake said Friday.
Meer was charged Wednesday, and a probable cause court document was filed Thursday outlining the allegations of his charges. The LaPorte County Prosecutor's Office was unable to provide the documents Friday evening.
Lake would not shed light or discuss the specific allegations behind the charges. Ethically, Lake said he’s prohibited from discussing any case that hasn’t been decided.
The accusations follow a controversy between Meer and Michigan City police after Meer's 33-year-old step-son, Adam Bray, was arrested and charged last month with possession of cocaine, possession of heroin, unlawful possession of a firearm by a serious felon and resisting law enforcement.
Meer initially alleged the prosecutor targeted Bray to cause political sabotage, saying, "It is no coincidence this is occurring just a couple of weeks before the election.”
On Oct. 24, it was announced the Michigan City police chief and two assistant police chiefs turned in resignation letters. During his Oct. 22 resignation, former police chief Mark Swistek cited his refusal to obey an order from Meer to withdraw Michigan City officers from the LaPorte County Drug Task Force.
In a news release following the resignations, Meer said, "I apologized for my choice of words to the chief during a private, heated discussion, and I apologize to the members for the Michigan City Police Department, especially to the detectives currently assigned to the Drug Task Force."
Meer further said he did not mean what he said to Swistek and had no intention of reassigning officers or withdrawing cooperation from the task force.
King said a mayor, under state law, cannot be accused of committing intimidation related to the duties of a city’s chief executive officer.
"Giving a directive, giving a suggestion, giving any form of executive input to somebody in the chain of command does not constitute a criminal act. It’s just that simple,’’ King said.
Two judges and a magistrate in LaPorte County courts have recused themselves from the case, court records show.
On Thursday an order was issued for the court to recuse itself from finding a probable cause because, among other reasons, presiding Judge Greta Friedman's spouse could potentially be called as a witness in the case, court records stated. The same concern also applied to Magistrate John Link of Superior Court 4.
The court document claimed Friedman's spouse's job position caused him to be included on an email chain that may lead him to testify on the matter.
The same day, the case was transferred to Judge Richard Stalbrink of LaPorte Superior Court 2. However, Stalbrink recused himself because he said his wife is the corporation counsel for Michigan City.
On Thursday, a motion was filed to seal the public records, but the clerk unsealed the records Friday.