KNOX — La Porte County Prosecutor John Lake and his wife and chief of staff, Mary Lake, have filed a civil tort claim against former Michigan City mayor Ron Meer and the city of Michigan City.
In the claim filed by local attorney Guy DiMartino in Starke County Circuit Court on Tuesday, the Lakes say they are seeking “compensatory damages, punitive damages, and all other just and proper relief” stemming from Meer having accused them of arresting his stepson out of political retaliation just weeks prior to the 2019 general election – an allegation the Lakes say is false.
In addition to suing for damages, the Lakes are demanding a jury trial on charges of defamation against Meer individually, as well as against the city, as Meer made his statements in his official capacity as mayor; and on a third count of intentional infliction of emotional distress against Meer.
“Meer’s published false defamatory statements proximately caused substantial injuries to John and Mary Lake,” the tort claim states. “Meer’s false and defamatory statements have damaged plaintiffs and each of their reputations on a personal and professional level, regarding their honesty, integrity, morality, and law-abidingness.
“Further, Meer’s defamatory statements have caused Plaintiffs, and each of them, to lose professional stature and credibility, subjected them to public contempt and criticism, impaired their employment and earning opportunities for the rest of their lives, and caused Plaintiffs to suffer pain, embarrassment, anxiety and mental anguish.”
Meer’s attorney, Scott King, addressed the allegations in a telephone interview Friday, noting he’s never witnessed such response as that of the Lakes in his 45 years of having practiced law.
“I’m flabbergasted at what the thinking is in filing such a thing,” he said. “I don’t think there’s any basis in fact about it. But going one step further, the law is abundantly clear regarding the standard of proof that’s required for a public figure to maintain a defamation claim. And there’s no question, certainly on a local level, that the plaintiffs are public figures.
“I’m astonished by it,” King said. “Given the fact that the allegations are based on a time when [Meer] was the mayor, I believe the actual defense there will be handled through the city; and I am in the process of preparing action on behalf of the former mayor regarding the events of 2019 that led to the filing of criminal charges against him.”
John Lake filed criminal charges – one felony count of official misconduct, five felony counts of intimidation, and two misdemeanor counts of false informing – against Meer less than a week before the 2019 election, which Meer lost to current Mayor Duane Parry.
A Porter County judge ruled that a special prosecutor should handle the matter, which resulted in a pretrial diversion agreement.
Meer’s six felony charges were dropped, and the remaining misdemeanor false informing charges were to be dropped in February 2021 if Meer were to have completed his pretrial diversion without incident.
However, Meer was charged in November 2020 with leaving the scene of an accident and resisting law enforcement, voiding the agreement and sending his initial criminal case back to Porter County Superior Court 6, where it remains pending.
Also pending against Meer is a civil suit filed in Starke Circuit Court by four members of the La Porte County Drug Task Force, who are seeking damages on counts of defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress stemming from the same 2019 incident.
Meer’s adult stepson, Adam Ross Bray, was arrested on felony firearm and gun charges by members of the Drug Task Force on Oct. 10, 2019.
The Lakes have claimed since the beginning that the arrest was lawful and a result of probable cause.
But Meer has maintained for the same amount of time that the Lakes targeted Bray shortly before the 2019 general election in order to hinder Meer from being re-elected for a third term as mayor.
The former mayor has publicly claimed a confidential informant came to his home to confess that the La Porte County Prosecutor’s Office and a member of the Drug Task Force had directed him to “set up” or target Meer’s stepson – a story the Lakes claim is a lie.
Throughout the document, the Lakes accuse Meer of having “knowingly, intentionally, willfully and wantonly” behaved with “malicious intent;” and having done so with “reckless disregard as to the truth.”
In a statement he issued Friday, Meer said of the tort claim: “It just shows a continued pattern of this prosecutor in La Porte County, in his persecution of me and his animus towards me. …
“I had never been arrested in 55 years of my life, not even a speeding ticket. And ever since I exercised my Constitutional right of freedom of speech, the prosecutor of La Porte County has been doing everything in his power to persecute me. Because he knows I was telling the truth in my press release back in 2019.”
La PORTE — For the second time in three days, La Porte County Sheriff’s deputies have stopped drivers clocked at over 100 mph on State Road 2.
On Monday a driver was clocked at 100 mph near La Porte; and Thursday, it was two drivers who appeared to be racing their vehicles at speeds of 104 mph near Rolling Prairie, according to a statement from the Sheriff’s Office.
“Speeding, to this degree, is an extremely dangerous driving behavior,” Capt. Derek J. Allen said in the statement. “Speeding drivers put themselves, their passengers, and the motoring public – including LCSO deputies – at tremendous risk.
On Oct. 7 at 2:43 p.m., Sheriff’s Deputy Ryan Doperalski saw two passenger vehicles traveling westbound on State Road 2 in the area of CR-400E at an unreasonably high rate of speed.
The vehicles appeared to be racing – traveling side by side, one in the driving lane and the other in the passing lane. Doperalski’ s radar unit measured the speed of the vehicles at 104 mph.
A traffic stop was initiated in the 2800 East block of SR 2 on the two vehicles. The drivers were identified as Steven J. Allen, 56, of La Porte; and Rafael Jimenez Jr., 24, also of La Porte.
Allen was charged with misdemeanor counts of taking part in a speed contest and reckless driving.
Jimenez was charged with misdemeanor counts of driving while suspended with a prior conviction, engaging in a speed contest and reckless driving.
Both drivers were also issued citations for exceeding the posted speed limit. They are scheduled to appear in La Porte County Superior Court 3.
Just three days prior, another motorist was stopped for speeding on SR 2 in excess of 100 mph.
On Monday, Oct. 4, at 4:50 a.m., Capt. Andy Hynek stopped a vehicle for traveling 110 mph eastbound on SR 2 near CR-150E. That driver, Dmond L. Cross, 37, of Rolling Prairie, was charged with reckless driving and issued a citation for exceeding the posted speed limit.
Cross told the officer he was speeding because he need to use the restroom, according to police. However, he had just driven past a gas station that was open at the time of the traffic stop, and did not say why he didn’t stop there.
“Deputies will continue to seek out and take appropriate enforcement action against speeding drivers to improve traffic safety on all La Porte County roadways,” Allen said.
La PORTE — La Porte County’s plan to utilize its $21 million share of American Rescue Plan Funds is taking shape, but not without some dissent.
The Board of Commissioners on Wednesday approved by a 2-1 vote taking a draft of the ARP spending plan under advisement and forwarding it to the County Council and department heads for review. Commissioner Joe Haney was the dissenting vote.
“It should definitely go forward as a draft – a proposal – so that there’s no need for people to think everything in here is set in stone. I think that would then enable us to have a joint meeting with the council in a couple of weeks after they’ve had time to digest it, suggest other things,” Commissioner Sheila Matias said.
The county received $10.65 million in ARP funds in July, with a second equal installment to be received in 2022. According to the Association of Indiana Counties, the commissioners are to prepare a spending plan, ARP financial advisor Karl Cender said.
Commissioners and the council members held a listening session Sept. 7 where ideas were collected from department heads and residents. The plan will then go to the County Council.
A portion of the plan includes premium and retention pay for county employees who worked a minimum of 90 days between March 20, 2020, and Sept. 30, 2021.
The plan will allocate an estimated $1.8 million for frontline workers and $700,000 for other workers.
“It is our belief, as we’ve looked at it, that all county employees are essential, so you will not see that term used,” county attorney Shaw Friedman said.
The plan proposes $4,000 in premium pay for workers deemed as frontline and/or who worked in the field during the pandemic. Retention pay of $2,000 is proposed for all employees, and $1,000 for part-time and seasonal employees.
“We believe the distinction is the fairest means of trying to determine eligibility and seeing that all county employees receive some kind of retention pay,” Friedman said.
One request in the plan is for $800,000 for transitional housing to aid those in recovery from drug, alcohol, gaming and other addictions.
“That’s actually for a recovery place for individuals. At the listening session, Mitch Peters came in from Porter County shared that he has four facilities that have been quite successful in helping individuals recovering from drug, alcohol and other abuses,” Cender said.
Friedman said Peters and his nonprofit will staff and program the facility, but the county needs to allocate the funds to build it.
Also in the plan is $200,000 for emergency rental assistance to avoid evictions, to be administered by township trustees through the courts.
“I believe $100,000 has already been appropriated for that because, as we all know, the state and the federal governments have lifted the moratorium,” Cender said.
Allocations for infrastructure projects include $2.5 million for a water and sewer extension at I-94 and U.S 421 just south of Michigan City.
“That only funds a portion of the project. The Redevelopment Commission would still have to issue Tax Increment Revenue bonds to fund the balance,” Cender said.
Other highlights of the plan include:
U.S. 35/20 sewer line and connection – $2.5 million
Rolling Prairie sewer connection and hookups – $250,000
Broadband projects – $1.5 million
New EMS/Highway garage in Rolling Prairie – $1.8 million
New EMS ambulance unit – $350,000
KIP rail bridge to connect CN Line – $600,000
Renovate buildings and fairgrounds facilities – $1.5 million
Repairs at county parks – $860,000
La Crosse downtown improvements – $175,000
Hanna sidewalk improvements – $125,000
Senior outreach measures to address isolation including support for Meals on Wheels, adult guardianship and adult protective services – $500,000
Safety net services including culturally sensitive case management and domestic violence services – $500,000
Address/remediate health impact of lead and other toxic substances on underserved communities – $500,000
Earn and Learn Program for students to learn about county careers, develop work-readiness skills and attend training seminars – $300,000
County Auditor Tim Stabosz said there were problems with how the plan was crafted.
“There is no indication that any legitimate executive authority of La Porte County either authorized, let alone ordered, Mr. Friedman to take on this responsibility. Instead, he fully appears to have taken on these duties himself,” Stabosz said.
Stabosz said his concern was that some of the line items may constitute a conflict of interest.
“While the plan before you represents a purported compilation of the results of the recent listening session, one wonders why there are surprising additions that are particularly partial to Mr. Friedman’s own policy preferences,” Stabosz said.
“In the most egregious example for a conflict of interest, as attorney for the 39 North Conservancy District, Mr. Friedman is proposing $2 million for a water tower for that district. The talk amongst the actually elected officials is proposing the county possibly putting $500,000 into that project,” Stabosz said.
Cender, however, said the conservancy district had anticipated receiving a grant from the Indiana Financing Authority to help fund the project, but did not.
“Their need is even greater now,” he said.
Haney, also citing the conservancy district, said the plan should be looked at closer.
“One of the things I have concerns with the county doing is, with this or anything else, if what we’re doing is going to benefit and become a source of profit for another entity, we need to make sure we are being as frugal as we can with the taxpayer dollars...
“If the city (La Porte) is going to be servicing it, it’s going to be benefiting their municipal water system. They should have some buy-in,” Haney said.
Friedman, however, said nothing regarding the ARP plan would affect his firm’s compensation.
“... yes, I’m counsel to the 39 North Conservancy District; yes I’m counsel for the Redevelopment Commission. We represent those boards; those boards have interests that are consistent with those of the county.
“The same thing with Swanson Center. I’ve served on that board for 30 years. I don’t receive a dime in compensation,” Friedman said.
One proposed allocation is $200,000 for the Swanson Center for telehealth access for students in area schools.
“Whether that passes or not, it doesn’t affect my compensation, it doesn’t affect anything, but it does affect the good of this county,” Friedman said.
Matias said many of the ideas came from county department heads and internal parties.
“(They) all had input into the plan ... To say that this is a Friedman plan is quite bizarre. We’re trying to figure out ways to spend this money that can transform this community,” Matias said.
Haney questioned why there weren’t more listening sessions.
Board president Rich Mrozinski, who stressed the plan is still a draft, said they have had conversations back and forth with everyone who offered ideas.
“Yeah, we’re going to have more listening sessions. We have to do something because we’ve got about $10 million – and $13 million worth of requests. It’s like hitting the lotto. All of the sudden you’ve got a whole lot of people that want to be your uncle.
“It’s been a work in progress for a long time. This is our first step in finally getting something in writing,” he said.