(La Porte County, IN) - There could be a legal battle over a request for e-mails by Sean Fagan, the new La Porte County Prosecutor.
The La Porte County Commissioners, by a 2-to-1 vote last night, decided to place his request on the shelf at least for now. The decision went against the advice of Andrew B. Jones, the attorney for the La Porte County Commissioners.
“I’m not trying to argue with anyone. I’m really just trying to stop the county from getting sued. I’m pleading with you,” he said.
Fagan is requesting all e-mails from last year by former prosecutor John Lake and his wife, Mary, who was his chief deputy prosecutor. All e-mails in 2022 are also being sought from two former employees and one current member of the prosecutor’s office, who stayed on after Fagan took over January 1st.
Fagan said he wants the e-mails to try and fill gaps in evidence from over 40 cases he inherited from the previous prosecutor.
He said the need is from Lake not fully cooperating during the transition to his administration and some paper records at the county complex that could be helpful in evidence gathering being destroyed from a flood around Christmas after a frozen water line busted.
Commissioners Connie Gramarossa and Rich Mrozinski voted to table the request until there's an attempt to obtain more specific information from Fagan on his request.
Gramarossa said she has no problem with giving Fagan e-mails specific to the cases he wants to research, but not all e-mails from last year.
“I have a problem with that. Let him take us to court,” she said.
Mrozinski expressed a similar view and also alleged Fagan’s motive could be political.
“It sounds to me like a witch hunt,” he said.
In January, two former employees under Lake filed a lawsuit against Fagan alleging he fired them for political reasons.
Prosecutors in all counties in Indiana actually work for the state. However, the prosecutor’s office in La Porte County uses a county government server for internet service.
Nevertheless, Jones said all e-mails from the prosecutor’s office are state property and the commissioners must comply with the prosecutor’s request.
Jones said the decision to table his request is equal to a denial and could result in a stiff financial penalty.
He provided opinions from the Indiana Attorney General’s Office, the Indiana Public Access Counselor and the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council, who ruled the e-mails belong to the prosecutor’s office.
Fagan said he hasn’t decided yet whether to legally challenge the decision.
Commissioner Joe Haney voted in favor of Fagan’s request.
“I would agree with the state here. This is the state’s data and we’re mere custodians,” he said.
Haney also felt all of the e-mails were needed because he might not know which ones are critical to the cases until he opens and reviews all of them.