Thursday, April 5, 2018
State of Indiana Settles Lawsuit Over Treasurer Official's Termination
Earlier this year, the State of Indiana completed the settlement of lawsuit which claimed that former Chief Deputy and General Counsel for the Indiana State Treasurer’s Office Jim Holden had been wrongfully terminated from employment. On June 2, 2014, Holden had been given a three-year contract by then Treasurer Richard Mourdock to provide legal services for the Indiana Board for Depositories, a body that is overseen by the State Treasurer.
Holden had served as manager of Mourdock’s Senate campaign in 2012, which campaign shocked the political world by knocking off incumbent Richard Lugar in the GOP primary only to lose to Democrat Joe Donnelly later that Fall. Almost two years later, Mourdock resigned before the end of his four-year term. Kelly Mitchell was subsequently elected Treasurer that Fall and took office early, replacing theinterim Treasurer, on November 18, 2014.
One of Kelly’s first moves as Treasurer was to terminate Holden from his job at the Treasurer’s Office and cancel his three year contract, even though Holden had been called up to active duty and had not yet transferred from his position in the Treasurer’s Office to working for the Board. Mitchell claimed that the termination was necessary because there was a conflict of interest in the Holden appointment because the Treasurer of the State directed the day-to-day activities of the Indiana Board for Depositories.
Although Holden was accused of not having received a clearance from the State Ethics Commission or making any of the required ethics disclosure, Holden had, in fact, consulted the Executive Director of the Indiana Ethics Commission and filed a Uniform Conflict of Interest Ethics Disclosure about the employment. An unemployment insurance state administrative law judge found Holden had “exercised all due diligence to ensure the employment was not a conflict of interest.”
In her termination decision, Mitchell also accused Holden of committing a felony by violating IC 35-44-1-3, a statute which criminalizes certain conflicts of interest by public officials. That statute, however, had been repealed. As part of the settlement, Mitchell issued a statement in which she admitted that the statute her office relied on had been earlier repealed and that Holden had done what was legally required to address any potential conflict of interest.
Holden filed his lawsuit in Marion County Superior Court in March of 2015. After spending 2 ½ years mired in pre-trial motions and discovery disputes, the case was preliminarily resolved in the Fall of 2017 via mandatory mediation. The additional delay, which pushed the matter inti 2018, was a result of the settlement having to be approved by the Governor.
As part of the resolution of the case, the State agreed to pay Holden $92,500 and to remove him from the “do not rehire” list maintained by the State of Indiana. Interestingly, in a press release issued in conjunction with the settlement, Holden noted that the “do not rehire” list maintained by the State of Indiana is in violation of state blacklisting laws.
Holden spoke of his experience fighting, successfully, the State on a wrongful termination matter: “Even though I was a 15-year state employee who had served under three State Treasurers, because I worked for Richard Mourdock and supported his Senate candidacy, the Republican establishment and donor-lobbyist class wanted to retaliate against me. Mitchell was just doing their bidding.”
Holden continued: “Ironically, I had arranged to transfer to the Indiana Board for Depositories so that Kelly Mitchell would be able to appoint her own Chief Deputy Treasurer and not be required to keep the position open for me while I was on active duty as mandated by federal law. I asked for a contract, because after so many years of working for politicians, I don’t trust politicians to do the right thing. Kelly Mitchell proved my instincts right.”
Holden’s first quote above relates to his work helping his boss Treasurer Richard Mourdock defeat long-time Indiana Senator Richard Lugar in the Republican primary. While many Establishment Republicans still sing Lugar’s praises, the fact is Richard Lugar years earlier had left Indiana far behind, both physically and mentally. Republicans in the Hoosier political trenches had complained that Lugar would not support GOP candidates with endorsements or fundraising and would not even bother to return to Indiana for Republican Lincoln Day Dinners in the Hoosier. Lugar even went so far as sending threating letters to Indiana GOP candidates warning that they are not allowed to use pictures of the candidate with Lugar in their campaign ads.
On the rare occasions when Lugar did venture back to Indiana, he would have to stay in hotel rooms because he had no residence in the state. When I investigated the matter, I found Lugar for decades had been using the address of a home he had sold some 30 years earlier as his declared “residence” to cast votes in Indiana. The legality of that practice is questionable at best. This is especially so when, near the same time frame, prosecutors were aggressively pursuing former Secretary of State Charlie White for a violation of the voting fraud statute based on what he declared his residence to be for one election.
I have known Jim Holden from my earliest involvement in Marion County politics in the late 1980s. Jim is a true believer, someone who not only supports the traditional conservative ideology communicated so eloquently by Ronald Reagan, but someone willing to fight for those beliefs even if it means stepping on some GOP establishment toes. It is good to see Jim succeed in his lawsuit and to set the record straight regarding his termination.