NOBLESVILLE, Ind. — Indiana's top elections official faced a final shot at regaining his office Thursday when his attorney planned to ask a judge to reduce each of his six felony convictions to misdemeanors.
Secretary of State Charlie White was scheduled to be sentenced on voter fraud, perjury, theft and other charges Thursday afternoon by Hamilton Superior Court Judge Steven Nation.
Defense attorney Carl Brizzi said he would ask that each of the charges be reduced to misdemeanors so White could hold onto his job, but one legal expert said Nation is likely to reject that request.
Joel Schumm, an expert on Indiana's judiciary who teaches at the Indiana University McKinney School of Law in Indianapolis, said it's not uncommon for a judge to reduce a first-time class D felony to a misdemeanor but the circumstances in White's case make that improbable.
"I have not seen it happen in a case with more than one felony, and the six felony convictions against White make it very unlikely," Schumm wrote in an email. "The nature of his offenses — crimes involving fraud and perjury — and his status as an elected official and lawyer suggest a reduction is especially unlikely."
Each of the charges White was convicted of is a class D felony carrying a penalty of six months to three years in prison.
Under Indiana law, a public official found guilty of a felony is forced from office, and that happened to White on Feb. 4 when the jury convicted him. The law allows White to be reinstated if the judge reduces the felonies to misdemeanors.
Brizzi has said White deserves to have the charges reduced because the 42-year-old Republican has no criminal background and has a long record of public service.
After White's conviction, Gov. Mitch Daniels immediately appointed White's chief deputy, Jerry Bonnet, as interim secretary of state. Daniels said he held off on a permanent appointment out of respect for the judge's authority to reduce the charges. He said if the felony convictions stood, he anticipated making a permanent appointment quickly.
The sentencing, however, won't end all of the court battles over White's office. The Indiana Supreme Court has scheduled oral arguments next week on a civil case in which Democrats contend White was never eligible to run for office in 2010 because he was improperly registered to vote. Democrats contend the office should go the Democrat who lost the 2010 election, Vop Osili.
Associated Press writer Charles Wilson in Indianapolis contributed to this report.
Ken Kusmer can be reached at http://twitter.com/kkusmer