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Indiana Supreme Court: Duke Bennett is Terre Haute Mayor
Posted in Litigation

In this opinion Tuesday, the Indiana Supreme Court unanimously affirmed the Vigo County trial court’s confirmation of Duke Bennett’s election as Mayor of Terre Haute.  The Supreme Court rejected incumbent Kevin Burke’s assertion that Bennett was ineligible for office under the Little Hatch Act, which “applies to the political activities of state and local government employees as well as people employed by a state or local agency ‘whose principal employment is in connection with an activity which is financed in whole or in part by loans or grants made by the United States or a Federal Agency.’”  Bennett’s pre-election employment at the Hamilton Center, a not-for-profit community mental health center and Head Start recipient, did not disqualify him from office, the Court held. 

Under the Indiana disqualification statute, Indiana Code § 3-8-1-5(c)(6), a person is “disqualified ‘from assuming’ or from ‘being a candidate’ for elected office if both of two conditions are satisfied: (1) the person ‘is subject to’ the Little Hatch Act, and (2) the person ‘would violate [the Act] by becoming or remaining’ a political party’s candidate for elective office.”  The Indiana Supreme Court noted that the statute may be employed pre-election to challenge a candidate or post-election to prevent a winner from assuming his or her position, and the point in time at which the disqualifiers are to be assessed depends on how the challenger is using the statute. 

In this case, Burke’s challenge came after the election, in an attempt to prevent Bennett from assuming his elected position.  “From the time Burke filed his election contest action to Bennett’s anticipated assumption of the position of Mayor, it is undisputed that Bennett was no longer a candidate.”  Thus, the Court held that it was impossible “to establish that Bennett ‘is subject to’ and ‘would violate’ the Little Hatch Act ‘by becoming or remaining’ a candidate” since he was no longer employed by the Hamilton Center.  Therefore, Bennett was a qualified candidate for the elected position as Mayor of Terre Haute.

To learn more about Meaghan Klem Haller and her practice, please visit her profile.

  • Partner

    Meaghan describes herself as an “unapologetic advocate” who will be upfront and honest with clients and thoroughly prepared on the law and facts of her cases.  She focuses her practice on corporate governance disputes, breaches ...

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