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Chad Seybold wants another judge

BY Spencer Durham - sdurham@chronicle-tribune.com

The City of Marion's ongoing lawsuit regarding funding for the Old YMCA could face another delay as Chad Seybold's attorney has requested that Judge Warren Haas recuse himself.

In a recent motion, P. Adam Davis, counsel for Seybold, contends that Superior Court III Judge Warren Haas should remove himself from the case as he is neighbors with City Attorney Tom Hunt and one of the anonymous donors supporting the lawsuit.

Grant County property records show that Hunt lives six doors down from Haas. According to Davis' motion, the two have been neighbors for 26 years. In addition, Davis notes that Hunt and Haas were involved in a case together in 2009 when Hunt was appointed as Superior Court III judge.

Property records also show Haas and longtime local businessman Charlie Wallace share a property line. Davis states in his motion that Wallace is one of two undisclosed donors who have given money to help the city finance the lawsuit.

Wallace, in a phone interview with the C-T Monday evening, denied he is one of the private donors bankrolling the city.

“That's 100 percent, totally false,” he said.

Wallace, a former president of both the Marion-Grant Chamber of Commerce and the Economic Growth Council, said he was notified by his attorney that he was mentioned in the document.

“There is no basis,” Wallace said, “and no facts.”

The Chronicle-Tribune has filed records requests in the past in an attempt to uncover the private donors but the Indiana Public Access Counselor declined to make an official ruling on the request. The city cited an Indiana code which allows donors to remain anonymous.

Davis also argues that Haas should recuse himself because he has a relationship with Michael Belcher of First Farmers Bank and Trust. Both served on the same Board of Directors for CASA “at least as early as 2017,” according to Davis.

First Farmers is named as a defendant in another lawsuit regarding the city that has been consolidated with the current case for discovery. The city has alleged that the bank, which was the trustee of the Old Y project, did not follow proper recordkeeping as trustee.

Davis cites “Judge Warren Haas' demeanor” toward Seybold since the judge learned of the recusal motion as another reason why the judge should step down from the case.

Steve Key, general counsel to the Hoosier State Press Association, said Haas will make the ruling whether or not he steps away from the case.

“The judge can look at what the claim is … and decide if he or she agrees,” Key said.

If Haas recuses himself, another judge will have to be appointed. Given that Judges Mark Spitzer, Jeffrey Todd and Dana Kenworthy have all recused themselves from the case, it's likely a new judge will come from outside the county, Key said.

In other court proceedings, London Witte Group, the city's former financial adviser, is asking the court to issue an order that would require the State Board of Accounts (SBOA) to disclose public records. The city has alleged negligence and breach of fiduciary duty against the firm.

London Witte's counsel stated in a recent court document that during deposition Lisa Dominisse, the city's former director of economic development, who now serves as president/CEO of Family Service Society, said the SBOA investigated the Old Y project and found no wrongdoing. That led London Witte to file a public records request with the SBOA, which was rejected by the public agency. SBOA referenced Indiana Code, attorney-client privilege and said the request was too vague.

In its motion, counsel for London Witte argues against each of SBOA's claims.

“The bottom line is that the records requested are clear, and the court should authorize disclosure and overrule SBOA's objections,” London Witte counsel writes.

According to online records, the city has been given more time to respond to London Witte's request. The original motion thus, is pending. As is Haas' decision on the motion to recuse.

A hearing is scheduled for 3 p.m. on July 26 in Superior Court III.

For the first time, a jury trial date has been set. Although tentative, a trial is scheduled for July 15, 2019.