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Supreme Court Rules Bennett is Still Mayor of Terre Haute

The Indiana Supreme Court has, in less than three weeks, decided the case which could establish the final outcome of the 2007 Terre Haute mayoral election.

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The Indiana Supreme Court has, in less than three weeks, decided the case which could establish the final outcome of the 2007 Terre Haute mayoral election.

In the legal boxing match between Duke Bennett and Kevin Burke, Bennett has won in a split decision.  The trial court sided with current mayor Bennett, but the state Appellate Court found in Burke’s favor, leading to an appeal and a date before the state’s highest court.  The appeals all focused on Bennett’s employment with the federally-funded Hamilton Center — a job Burke’s lawyers contended should have disallowed Bennett from running for office under terms of the Hatch Act.

But in a unanimous ruling issued Tuesday, Chief Justice Randall Shepard says such a claim cannot be filed after an election is complete, because the candidate in question — Bennett in this case — is already the mayor-elect and thus, by definition, no longer a candidate. Bennett said he hopes the ruling serves to inform future Hatch Act cases.

“It seems to help the future for candidates,” Bennett said.  “If you’ve got an issue with a candidate, you bring it up before the election and you’ve got a much better chance of having things go your way.”

But Burke said he’s disappointed the justices appear to have decided the case on a technicality.

“I think they ruled quickly because they chose not to answer anybody’s questions,” Burke said.  “You have nine judges and not a single one of them has said Duke Bennett was innocent.  As you read the decision they said whether he violated the Hatch Act or not, they did not have decide that to decide the case.”

Mayor Bennett says the ruling is a weight off his shoulders and those of his staff, all of whom have operated under the weight of the case for the entirety of Bennett’s 18 months in office.  Burke says he will not appeal the case to the United States Supreme Court.

Stan Jastrzebski

WFIU/WTIU News Senior Editor Stan Jastrzebski spent time as a reporter with WGN Radio in Chicago and as an editor at Network Indiana, an Indianapolis news service. Stan is the winner of awards from the Associated Press, the RTDNA, the Indiana Broadcasters Association and the Society of Professional Journalists. He hosts WFIU's Ask the Mayor and anchors WTIU's InFocus.

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