Indiana Supreme Court: Former Knox County Chief Deputy prosecutor committed attorney misconduct

The Indiana Supreme Court has suspended a former Knox County Chief Deputy Prosecutor from practicing law after saying he committed attorney misconduct.

Posted: Jan 30, 2020 12:53 PM
Updated: Jan 30, 2020 6:02 PM

KNOX COUNTY, Ind. (WTHI) - The Indiana Supreme Court has suspended a former Knox County Chief Deputy Prosecutor from practicing law after saying he committed attorney misconduct.

The Indiana Supreme Court suspended Joseph Burton from practicing law for 90 days.

The court says he abused his position as the chief deputy prosecutor to retaliate against a Vincennes Police Department detective.

According to a court document, Burton violated three Indiana professional conduct rules.

Those rules are:

  • 1.7(a)(2): Representing a client when there is a concurrent conflict of interest.
  • 8.4(d): Engaging in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice.
  • 8.4(e): Stating or implying an ability to improperly influence a government agency or official or to achieve results by means that violate the Rules of Professional Conduct.

When the events happened, the Supreme Court says Burton was the chief deputy prosecutor for Knox County.

News 10 reached out to the Knox County Prosecutor's Office. At this point they said they don't have a comment on Burton in this matter.

The court says the problems began back in 2017.

That's when the defendant was facing meth charges in Greene County.

During an interview with a Vincennes Police detective, the detective asked if the defendant was in a relationship with Burton or Knox County Prosecutor Dirk Carnahan.

LINK | DISCIPLINARY COMPLAINT FILED AGAINST KNOX COUNTY PROSECUTOR DIRK CARNAHAN

According to court records, the defendant said she had been in an on-again-off-again relationship with Burton for 20 years.

In March of 2018, the defendant told Burton about this conversation with the detective.

According to court records, Burton said: "That little <expletative> got it coming now; I'll have that <expletative> by her <expletative> hair now," in reference to the detective.

According to the court's findings, Carnahan filed an employee misconduct complaint against the detective in early April of 2018. Burton retired from the office on April 21, 2018.

Carnahan is still under investigation regarding this incident. His legal team issued a statement on Thursday.

Lawyers say the supreme court order references charges against Carnahan.

They say the Supreme Court order does not give context for the charges against Carnahan.

The statement says:

"I wish to avoid trying the charges against Mr. Carnahan in the media; however the stipulated facts in the Matter of Burton Order issued by the Supreme Court yesterday require some response because they allude to the pending disciplinary charges against Mr. Carnahan but do not provide the complete context of those charges.

As explained in more detail below, the Burton Order also recites one “stipulated fact” that is demonstrably false, and this misinformation is not only damaging to Mr. Carnahan’s professional reputation but also infringes upon his right to defend the disciplinary charges pending against him, that we contend lack merit.

As we discussed, neither the Burton Order nor the Verified Complaint filed against Mr. Carnahan provides the full context, which will be presented at trial.

A Vincennes Police Department Detective told a DOC inmate that there were rumors about Mr. Carnahan abusing his office in exchange for sexual favors. This statement by the Detective to the inmate was false and entirely unsubstantiated.

Moreover, a rumor like this undermines the ability of the Knox County Prosecutor’s Office to execute its function—prosecution of criminal charges. Mr. Carnahan expressed his concerns to the Vincennes Chief of Police who advised Mr. Carnahan to file a formal complaint with the Police Merit Commission. Mr. Carnahan followed that advice and did not interfere with the Merit Commission process. After the Merit Commission process concluded, Mr. Carnahan learned that the Merit Commission did not admonish or discipline the Detective for communicating rumors to a DOC inmate that could impact the ability of the Knox County Prosecutor’s Office to do its job. Mr. Carnahan remained concerned that the Detective would continue to spread rumors about him and further undermine the work of the Prosecutor’s Office.

Ultimately, after the Chief of Police rebuffed Mr. Carnahan’s concerns, Mr. Carnahan communicated his concerns about the impact of the Detective’s conduct in an e-mail stating a hypothetical (and clearly rhetorical) example in the hopes that the Chief of Police would understand the concerns and train the Detective to be more cautious in the future. We are confident that once the entire chain of events, documents, and sworn testimony about the communications between and among Mr. Carnahan, the Chief of Police, the Detective, Mr. Burton, and the DOC Inmate are considered, the disciplinary charges against Mr. Carnahan will be rejected.

We must also point out that the Burton Order recites one stipulated fact that is demonstrably false and very troubling. Specifically, page 2 of the Burton Order states: “Before the interview, Detective had been informed by the Indiana State Police that Defendant was having a sexual relationship with ‘your prosecutor,’ but Detective did not know if this meant Carnahan or [Burton].” This statement is directly contradicted by the Detective’s sworn deposition testimony provided on October 17, 2019, in which the Detective confirmed that the Indiana State Police specifically identified Mr. Burton, and only Mr. Burton, as the prosecutor having a sexual relationship with the Defendant. I am enclosing the relevant excerpt of the Detective’s deposition (pages 27-28). Notably, the Detective provided this same version of events during a recorded interview in May of 2018. (See Mr. Carnahan’s Answer to the Verified Complaint, at Paragraphs 10 &11, which discusses the Detective’s recorded interview).

It is disappointing that this false information was provided to the Supreme Court, as it grossly misstates the context for the Detective’s later inquiry or investigation regarding Mr. Carnahan, during which the Detective advised the Defendant (a DOC inmate) that there were rumors about Mr. Carnahan. Mr. Carnahan is rightfully concerned that the presentation of this false information as a stipulated fact in the Burton Order prejudices the public perception of the disciplinary charges against him and complicates his ability to defend the disciplinary charges against him.

As a general matter, it should be noted that while the charges against Mr. Burton and the charges against Mr. Carnahan involve some overlapping facts, the facts set forth in the Burton Order do not provide a complete context for the charges against Mr. Carnahan. Of note, some stipulated facts may accurately reflect what Mr. Burton said to a DOC inmate (called “Defendant” in the Order), but these stipulated facts do not accurately reflect the underlying interactions between Mr. Burton and Mr. Carnahan. It is also important to note that there are no charges that Mr. Carnahan was involved in any way in any sexual, romantic, or otherwise inappropriate relationship with any criminal defendant or inmate."

We will bring you the latest as soon as it becomes available.

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