The court case that was filed on November 18 in Washington Circuit Court by William “Bill” Ackerman (who was defeated in his Democratic bid for Mayor in November 2019) was delivered into the hands of Circuit Court Judge Larry Medlock this afternoon shortly after 2p after both parties rested their cases in this year’s first bench trial.
Mayor Justin Green’s attorney, Larry Wilder, rested his case by asking for a renewal of a motion to dismiss the case based upon the evidence that had been introduced during Ackerman’s case which alleged that Green was not a resident of the City of Salem at the time of the November 2019 General Election, therefore should not have been qualified to run for the office.
The decision on the motion to dismiss could come as early as tomorrow (Thursday, April 15) at 4p.
If that ruling isn’t issued, then a general ruling on the case could come at or before 4p on Thursday, April 30. Both parties have until then to submit their findings of fact to the court.
The first witness on Tuesday was Indiana State Police Detective Tim Denby who testified that there was a special prosecutor appointed to investigate allegations involving Mayor Green’s residency.
Wilder asked Ackerman at one point during the trial if he knew Jay Davisson, son of Indiana District 73 Representative Steve Davisson, had requested the investigation.
Ackerman said he did not.
Wilder said the State Police officer can’t testify about an ongoing investigation.
Special Prosecutor Michael Steiner from Martin County (former elected prosecutor) was assigned to the investigation by Judge Medlock in September 2019, at the request of Washington County Prosecutor Dustin Houchin.
“We just discovered through a conference call on April 9 at a pretrial conference that this [Steiner] has cancer and he has withdrawn from all his special prosecutor case,” said Wilder.
Medlock is expected to appoint a new special prosecutor from Jackson County.
Leatherbury called eleven additional witnesses on Tuesday and followed up with four witnesses on Wednesday.
Those witnesses included, in order of appearance, Ron Haendiges, Tara Hunt, Stephanie Rockey, Debbie Schrieber, Scott Campbell, Greg Ball, Randall Bills, Necole Caldwell, Todd Smith and Sabrina Burdine.
Christie Grider, Green’s girlfriend, started out as a witness by phone call on Wednesday morning.
She was supposed to have appeared on Tuesday afternoon but wasn’t able to come to court because she had been tested for Covid-19 earlier in the day.
Grider has been living at Green’s property located at 2900 North Old State Road 56 and is quarantined there until her test results come back next week, according to information presented during this morning’s examination.
In today’s testimony, Leatherbury recalled Washington County Assessor Greg Ball, and questioned Green and Ackerman.
Wilder only called Green to testify.
After the two-day trial ended, Medlock addressed the few people in the courtroom – the bailif, the court reporter along with Ackerman, Leatherbury, Green, Wilder and his aid.
“One thing I wish to say,” said Medlock from the bench. “My guess is there’s probably a lot of folks who don’t believe this is an essential or an emergency. Mind you that this matter is extremely important to the citizens of the City of Salem and to Washington County. Our forefathers drafted a constitution and from which all laws follow.
“And our form of government has withstood the test of time for over 200 years. I believe in the orderly disposition of official duties and governance of the people is a high priority. I believe that the citizens of the City of Salem need to know who their mayor is and get this matter settled as quickly as possible. Therefore I made the determination that this was important enough and to have this case tried. If the citizens are upset, I accept that responsibility.”
During the state-wide Stay-At-Home order, Gov. Eric J. Holcomb asks that only essential businesses remain open.
The Washington County Justice Center was closed to the public and all non-essential court cases were required to be postponed or be handled by video conferencing.
During this two-day bench trial, local media were sequestered into a separate room with audio piped in from the courtroom.
The witness stand was disinfected before and after each person sat there.
“I was thoroughly impressed at the court staff who handled every part of what went on for the past two days in light of the Covid-19 virus,” said Wilder. “The conscientious way the judge handled every movement in the courtroom. I’ve been in court during this situation and nobody has handled it like this. [Court staff was] taking temperatures as we came in. My wife came up with me the week before to the pre-trial conference. She sat out in the car and she told me the number of times a gentleman came out and disinfected the hand rails outside the door. I was impressed with how concientious about how everyone was working to keep everyone safe.”
Witnesses were kept outside the courtroom until it was their turn to testify.
“It went as well as we expected,” said Leatherbury. “It was a battle. Mr. Wilder is a very astute and very smart attorney. I only have good things to say about him.”
“The judge will make a decision tomorrow whether or not to act on Larry’s motion,” said Leatherbury.
Wilder said that his motion is an argument that one makes when the other side has finished putting on their evidence.
“The argument is that they presented no evidence that would allow the court to find in their favor – even if all the evidence that they presented was true and accurate and correct,” said Wilder. “It’s basically an argument that – if this were a football game – and they had their opportunity to take the ball and run with it…they didn’t get to the goal line and they would never get to the goal line because their turn is over.”
Wilder said his position was that there was absolutely nothing presented during Mr. Ackerman’s case that gives the court the ability to rule in favor of Mr. Ackerman.
Washington County Clerk Stephanie Rockey said Green was certified to run in the November election when he beat Ackerman by 572 votes.
This issue was first brought up by Washington County Democratic Party Chairperson Briscoe at a press conference on Sept. 18, 2019 alleging Green, the Republican Candidate for Mayor didn’t live in the Salem City Limits, despite him owning a home on Tucker Street in Salem.
“I think the big question is, does he really live there. I don’t buy it. I don’t think he lives there,” Briscoe said during a press conference in which only WSLM attended.
The building in question is located at 509 East Tucker street.
“I would like to get it paid for and maybe see a little income off of it someday,” Green said.
He said he mows the property and stores some things there.
“I had an opportunity in 2012 to buy that [the 66.6 acres] and I did. It’s sitting out there. Row crops and storage. I do intend to pay for it someday. At my age, I’d like to get some things tackled before I’m too old to pay for it,” said Green.
Green also owns and operates Green’s Auto Sales on Main Street in Salem and is in a lease agreement to purchase the business property.
Green outlined his political career and residences he’s lived in.
Since 2003, he lived at 106 Macon Avenue, which he purchased from Paulette Miller.
He ran for City Council in 2007 and won his position there, while living at the Macon Avenue residence.
He still lived there when he ran and won re-election in 2011 and in 2015.
In fact, Green lived there until he sold the home on June 3, 2016.
Green purchased the Tucker Street house on June 13, 2016 from Norma Pugh.
Having served on the Salem City Council for three terms, Green is no stranger to having his candidacy certified.
IN FACT, OVER THE PAST 12 YEARS, HIS CANDIDACY WAS CERTIFIED IN 2007, 2011 AND 2015 BY DEMOCRAT COUNTY CLERKS SHIRLEY BATT AND RITA MARTIN – NEITHER OF WHOM HAD ANY ISSUES WITH WHERE GREEN LIVED.
“I’ve been on the Salem City Council for 3 terms. The current Republican clerk says everything was in order,” Green stated.
Rockey verified Green was successfully certified in the three previous municipal elections.
“Please take note that on the 2007 and 2011 candidate filings for Justin Green that they are the Certifications in the Statewide Voter Registration System – SVRS for the elections,” Rockey wrote in an email to WSLM last fall. “I confirmed with previous Clerk Shirley Batt that those paper files were destroyed, due to the retention schedule for candidate files. But, his 2015 candidate filings were still secured here onsite [at the Washington County Justice Center.]”
“As far as I am, and our office is concerned, there is no issue with his candidacy,” noted Rockey before the November election. “The concerns of the Democratic party were informally brought to my attention and the previous Clerk prior to the Primary. [Justin] Green filed all the appropriate paperwork to run for Mayor and his paperwork was processed and certified according to Indiana Election Division guidelines.
“When the informal allegations were brought to my attention, those parties were advised that they could file a formal complaint with our County Election Board and/or IED. They were in the time frame to actually file a CAN-1, Candidate Filing Challenge, contesting a Declaration of Candidacy,” Rockey noted.
“After that time frame had passed, they were told they could file a civil suit in Circuit Court,” said Rockey.
The local Democratic party did not file any challenges before the Nov. 5 election.
Rockey said no formal complaints were ever filed, regarding any subject that was brought up during the recent press conference.
Wilder pointed out to Ackerman in court this afternoon, that had he filed a lawsuit prior to November 5 and Green had been removed from the ballot, the local Republican party would likely have replaced Green with another candidate.
Wilder also implied that Ackerman waited until after the election to bring a lawsuit so if Green was removed, then Ackerman would become the new Mayor of Salem.
“When I read from the Supreme Court’s opinion, if Mr. Ackerman thought there was a problem with the Mayor’s candidacy, then the Supreme Court has said that Mr. Ackerman had an obligation to pursue his remedies before the election,” Wilder said on the phone later in this afternoon. “And Ackerman testified that he heard rumors, talked to [Darlene] Briscoe (Washington County Democratic Party Chair) before the election about the Mayor’s alleged issues of residency and he chose to do nothing.”
WSLM confirmed with Matthew R. Kochevar, Co-General Counsel of the Indiana Election Division, that no challenge had been filed at the state level prior to the election.
Ackerman said in court today that he contacted Kochevar after the Nov. 5 election and ultimately decided to file a lawsuit challenging Green’s candidacy.