The former Hancock County coroner has filed a lawsuit against former Marion County Prosecutor Carl Brizzi that accuses him of giving her bad legal advice while he represented her.
Tamara Vangundy was arrested in May 2012 in connection with a drunken driving case. At the time, she was serving as coroner and running for re-election. Vangundy blamed the incident on an adverse reaction to a prescription sleeping aid that marred her judgment.
According to court documents, Vangundy hired Brizzi specifically to handle election law and how the arrest could affect her status in the upcoming election. Brizzi told her to accept a deal in which she’d plead guilty to a misdemeanor DUI charge and a felony official misconduct charge. Under the terms of the agreement, Vangundy would get misdemeanor sentences for both charges.
According to state law, a person can’t serve in public elected office if convicted of a felony. Brizzi told Vangundy that she’d still be eligible for office under the terms of the plea agreement–that the misdemeanor sentence would offset the felony conviction. In August 2012, Vangundy appeared in court to accept the deal, believing she would be able to resume her duties and run for re-election.
According to the lawsuit, Brizzi was “flat wrong” with his advice and “caused Ms. Vangundy to forever lose her position as Hancock County Coroner.” Even though the felony charge was treated as a misdemeanor in the sentencing phase, it didn’t matter in the eyes of Indiana Code, which says a public official convicted of a felony will be removed from office even in the case of a plea agreement in which the felony is treated as a misdemeanor.
The lawsuit said the Hancock County prosecutor emailed Brizzi and threatened to prosecute Vangundy for impersonating a public official if she responded to any subsequent coroner calls because she no was longer eligible to serve in that capacity.
Vangundy paid Brizzi $10,000 for his advice, the lawsuit said. Vangundy asked Brizzi to return the $10,000 fee, but “Carl Brizzi laughed and refused,” according to court documents. Vangundy said she had to borrow money from her parents to pay the fee, adding that her parents took out a second mortgage to loan her the money.
The lawsuit said Brizzi admitted he “missed” the applicable statutes regarding the law, telling the Greenfield Daily Reporter that it was a “mistake.”
This is the second high-profile complaint against Brizzi. Former Secretary of State Charlie White is asking for a new trial after saying Brizzi’s representation was ineffective. White was convicted of six counts in a voter fraud case.