Rich James: The return of the infamous 'bar tab'
Thursday, June 02, 2016 10:19 AM
MERRILLVILLE – It would appear it is one of those “déjà vu all over again” kind of things. Just like the loquacious Yogi Berra used to talk about in television commercials.
Nevertheless, the handling of the disposition of records involving drunken driving cases in Lake County, at least in one of the courts, is about to come under the microscope. Lake County Prosecutor Bernard Carter has asked the state police to investigation the handling of drunken driving cases in Lake Station City Court. There are allegations that documentation from drunken driving convictions aren’t being sent to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles. That documentation can result in the suspension of driving privileges and higher insurance rates.
The allegation from Mayor Christopher Anderson, who was city judge when the alleged wrongdoing occurred, was that court clerk Miranda Brakley was responsible for transmitting the DUI conviction information to the state but never did. Brakley, the step-daughter of former Mayor Keith Soderquist, is awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty to embezzling $16,000 from the city court. Soderquist pleaded guilty to trying to cover up the theft by trying to replace the money.
Carter has said he is concerned the reporting failures could involve hundreds of drivers.
Noted defense attorney Thomas Vanes, who represents Brakley, said his client is a scapegoat and that all courts should be checked. It was some 30 years ago that the Lake County court system hit a low when the “operation bar tab” probe into the fixing of drunken driving tickets was in full swing. Hundreds of drunken driving records were involved in that probe as state police investigators found that scores of conviction records never were sent to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles.
In most cases, it cost the driver $1,500 to have his records disappear. While some of the officials involved didn’t receive any kickbacks, they were convicted of helping cover up the wrongdoing. Two small claims court judges, the county clerk, a deputy prosecutor, bailiffs and lawyers were convicted and went to jail. Operation bar tab played out for several years in U.S. District Court in Hammond.
Unfortunately for Lake County’s reputation, some appear to be choosing to bring back the same scheme that left the county in disgrace many years ago.
Rich James has been writing about state and local government and politics for more than 30 years. He is a columnist for The Times of Northwest Indiana.