(La Porte County, IN) - Things are becoming even more heated in the already hot legal war between prominent La Porte County political figures. Higher authorities locally and downstate have been communicated with regarding the ongoing and latest developments.
LaPorte County Auditor Tim Stabosz is now withholding payment for the entire September billing cycle on work performed by Friedman & Associates for the La Porte County Commissioners. The total amount withheld is $10,000.
The commissioners have already sued Stabosz for not paying some of Friedman's claims totaling $1,100 on his August billing after the commissioners voted to approve the payment. Stabosz also withheld $165 from Friedman on Friedman & Associates' July billing statement.
In an October 12th letter to Commission President Rich Mrozinski, Stabosz warned he would freeze all future monthly payments to Friedman's firm for his work should the commissioners sue him and not grant legal counsel to defend him in the case. However, he said he would lift the freeze once the case was decided in the courts.
In response, Friedman said he contacted La Porte County Prosecutor John Lake and the Indiana State Board of Accounts to review the auditor's latest actions.
"There's no basis in law or regulation to do what he's doing. We'll let them sort it out at this point," said Friedman.
Stabosz explained he also questions several claims in September and Friedman remains "out of compliance" with the procedures Stabosz has established for verifying claims. Though he has not asked Friedman yet for additional information to rule on those claims, Stabosz plans to do so eventually.
Stabosz said the claim he did not pay Friedman for in July was to share an article about the Delta variant of COVID-19 with the commissioners and send the information to the LaPorte County Health Department. Stabosz said he understands the county attorney's scope of duties as a vendor that is not working under a contract is broad, but sharing news information seems to be out of the realm of legal work.
"I'm doing what I believe is right for La Porte County and to protect the taxpayers and to hold him accountable for his billing practices," he said.
Stabosz said he contacted the Indiana Attorney General's Office and engaged in a brief conversation about the situation.
Friedman said the latest action by Stabosz follows a pattern of him using his taxpayer-funded position to settle personal and political vendettas. He also said the commissioners approved the September claim, just like the claims Stabosz withheld payment on from August.
Friedman chose not to shed more light publicly on the disputed claims but said he would argue the merits of those claims in court.
"We've been county attorneys for 25 or 26 of the last 37-years. We've never had our bills questioned by anyone in authority. I've worked with auditors from both parties. County Commissioners from both parties. Never had the State Board of Accounts question anything we've done," Friedman said. "It's only since January 1st that we've faced this. I'll stand on the quality of the work and the work we do for the citizens of this county and let it speak for itself."
Elected in November of 2022, Stabosz began serving his first term as the County Auditor on January 1st. He was previously elected as a LaPorte City Councilperson twice. He ran an unsuccessful bid against Tom Dermody for the Republican candidate for mayor of LaPorte before running for the auditor position.
After accusing Friedman of running the county government, Stabosz was sued for defamation of character in February. The case is currently in the evidence-gathering stage in preparation for a possible trial.
Friedman also denied claims by Stabosz that he is a puppeteer with elected officials locally on his strings.
"That is not the case. We work at the direction of the commissioners. It's interesting. There's been one allegation after another that cannot be supported by facts. It is exactly that reason why he is a defendant in a defamation case," he said.
After initially resisting, the La Porte County Council authorized Stabosz on Monday night to hire an attorney whose expenses will be paid entirely by the county government. Councilman Mark Yagelski said the La Porte County government is obligated under state law to pay all of his legal expenses in the case filed against him by the commissioners because his actions were related to his work.