Thursday, February 18, 2021

Mendenhall Chronicles: Part Eight (The Conclusion)

The insanity defense meant demonstrating for the jury that there was no logical explanation for Auggie to be angry at DeLaney for what happened to his father, Burke, at least not enough for him to have an armed confrontation with DeLaney in the Carmel church parking lot.  But was Auggie’s anger really that irrational? 

Auggie was just a teenager when DeLaney filed the DeBartolo injunction lawsuit against his father.  It was shortly afterward, that Marion County Prosecutor Steve Goldsmith filed a civil forfeiture lawsuit against Burke Mendenhall to, in advance, padlock the very building which was the subject of DeBartolo lawsuit.  To serve the civil forfeiture summons on Burke Mendenhall at his home, approximately eight Carmel police cars showed up, when one was sufficient.  Obviously, the police presence in serving a civil summons was an attempt at intimidating Burke.  No doubt, Auggie, who was still a child living at home, witnessed what happened to his father.

The Goldsmith civil forfeiture action spawned news stories which left the false impression that Burke was some sort of pornographer.  (Auggie talked about the embarrassment the stories caused for him at school.)  That publicity was followed by a cascade of lenders foreclosing on Mendenhall properties. Deprived of rental income and reeling from cost of defending his business and reputation in court, Burke was eventually broken financially and declared bankruptcy. 

After years of losses in federal and state court, Burke Mendenhall did eventually prevail when the United States Supreme Court said in a separate case that Indiana’s civil forfeiture did not allow for the pre-trial seizure of bookstore contents as it was a prior restraint on expression in violation of the First Amendment. With Goldsmith’s tactic used against Burke being declared unconstitutional, his office had no choice but to drop the civil forfeiture lawsuit.  Unfortunately, the victory did not give Burke his reputation or restore his real estate development business.

Auggie Mendenhall

A closer look at the facts suggest it was hardly irrational for Auggie or Burke to see a connection between DeLaney’s filing of the DeBartolo lawsuit and Goldsmith filing the civil forfeiture action.  Delaney and Goldsmith were neighbors, and both had been partners at the Indianapolis law firm Barnes & Thornburg.  Delaney’s wife, Ann, worked for Goldsmith at the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office.  Indeed, during his deposition before Auggie’s criminal case, DeLaney admitted he may well have talked to Goldsmith about the lawsuit he had filed against Burke Mendenhall.  

Far from being irrational, it was quite rational that Auggie would blame DeLaney for the financial and personal harm that was done to his father.   It is likewise understandable that years later, Auggie would still nurse a grudge that motivated him to confront DeLaney for what happened to his father.  For his meeting with DeLaney in a car parked in a Carmel church parking lot, Auggie wore a Halloween outfit, heavy winter gloves (even though it was in the 50’s that day), and he brought with him a cheap handgun (instead of the Glock which he owned) which was encased in a plastic bag.    When the gun was found later, the safety was on.  Hardly the actions of someone who had the intent to kill.

It could well have been that Auggie was an uncooperative client who would not agree to a “I was just there to scare him” presentation of facts that, even if accepted by the jury, would been a felony conviction which gave him substantial time in prison.  The only way to avoid any felony conviction and avoid prison entirely was for Auggie to win on the longshot insanity defense. 

Nonetheless, the defense strategy had the unfortunate effect of further brutalizing the reputation of Burke and Auggie, while most undeservedly lionizing DeLaney.  DeLaney almost certainly shares blame for the financial and personal harm inflicted on Burke Mendenhall.  To think otherwise is to ignore the strong possibility that Goldsmith's civil forfeiture lawsuit against Mendenhall was filed to aid DeLaney in the representation of his corporate client.   But while DeLaney is not without fault, Goldsmith may be even more to blame.  As an elected prosecutor he had enormous power, and he seems to have blatantly abused that power to try to destroy Burke Mendenhall.    He should not be given a pass for his conduct.

The sad tale of Auggie Mendenhall is not a story about a crazy son and his delusional father.  It is a story about how powerful, well-connected people can misuse their power to hurt people who lack the power to fight back.  While we cannot know for certain that DeLaney enlisted the awesome power of Marion County Prosecutor Steve Goldsmith to advance the interests of his client and, in the process, crush Burke Mendenhall, it is entirely rational to make that connection. 

Burke Mendenhall and his son, Auggie, deserved better.

RIP, Augustus “Auggie” Mendenhall.

1 comment:

True Republican said...

Well written Paul. I was just recently thinking about Gus Mendenhall. Like Gary Welsh his death is a great loss. I remember how you and Gary wrote about this all those years ago. We must keep up the pressure on the Delaney’s and the Goldsmith’s of the world. Let’s keep up the good fight for Gary and Gus!

Indy Republican