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Indiana State Ethics Comm'n v. Sanchez

Supreme Court of Indiana

October 16, 2014

PATRICIA SANCHEZ, Appellee (Petitioner below)

Page 989

Appeal from the Marion Superior Court, No. 49D03-1206-PL-23262. The Honorable Patrick L. McCarty, Judge. On Petition to Transfer from the Indiana Court of Appeals, No. 49A02-1301-PL-12.

ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT: Gregory F. Zoeller, Attorney General of Indiana; Stephen R. Creason, Elizabeth Rogers, Deputy Attorneys General, Indianapolis, Indiana.


ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE: Sara R. Blevins, Matthew S. Tarkington, Indianapolis, Indiana.

Massa, Justice. Rush, C.J., and Dickson, Rucker, and David, JJ., concur.


Page 990

Massa, Justice.

When Patricia Sanchez was fired from her job at the Indiana Department of Workforce Development, she kept several items of state property in her possession. She was charged with theft, but those charges were dismissed. The State initiated an ethics proceeding against her, determined her conduct ran afoul of an administrative rule, and barred her from future State executive branch employment. We are asked to review that adjudication and sanction. Because we find the proceeding was properly before the Commission, there was sufficient evidence to support the Commission's determination, and the sanction was within the Commission's discretion, we affirm the Commission's decision.

Facts and Procedural History

In 2008, Patricia Sanchez became Director of the Indiana Commission of Hispanic/Latino Affairs, a division of the Indiana Department of Workforce Development. Her tenure was tumultuous, however, and in January 2010, DWD fired her for alleged misconduct including ghost employment, procurement violations, insubordination, poor job performance, and generally toxic behavior. Subsequently, DWD notified the Office of Inspector General that Sanchez had committed procurement violations, and Special Agent Charles Coffin began investigating the matter.

During the course of his investigation, Special Agent Coffin learned three items of State property had gone missing around the time Sanchez was fired: a television set, a luggage cart, and a label maker. All three items were last seen in Sanchez's possession. Sanchez's former assistant last saw the television set in Sanchez's apartment during a private holiday party, where Sanchez was using it to show children's videos. And two other employees who shared office space with the Commission also identified the television they saw at the holiday party as the one belonging to the Commission. Similarly, DWD staff saw Sanchez use the luggage cart to transport her personal belongings from her office to her son's car on the day she was fired. Finally, DWD staff stated Sanchez had kept the label maker in her office, but after she was terminated, they could not find it. Based upon this information, on March 24, 2010, Special Agent Coffin obtained a search warrant for Sanchez's apartment and her son's car and executed it the following day. He found all three items, as well as a cable for Sanchez's

Page 991

State-issued smart phone, in Sanchez's possession.

The Marion County Prosecutor filed criminal charges against Sanchez, alleging she committed theft and official misconduct. In January 2011, Sanchez moved to suppress the fruits of the search, arguing the information in the warrant was stale. The new judge to whom the case was assigned granted her motion and suppressed the evidence found in the search, as well as all derivative evidence and statements. The prosecutor did not appeal that ruling but rather dismissed the criminal charges against Sanchez.

On May 12, 2011, the OIG filed an ethics complaint against Sanchez alleging she violated 42 Indiana Administrative Code 1-5-12 (2004), which provides:

A state officer, employee, or special state appointee shall not make use of state materials, funds, property, personnel, facilities, or equipment for any purpose other than for official state business unless the use is expressly permitted by a general written agency, departmental, or institutional policy or regulation.

At a probable cause hearing before the Commission, Special Agent Coffin testified regarding his investigation, the criminal proceeding, and the suppression. He also cited a 2008 DWD policy regarding personal use of state resources that provided: " An employee may not make private use of any state property that has been removed from state facilities or other official duty stations, even if there is no cost to the state." App. at 191-92. The Commission found probable cause to support the complaint and set the matter for adjudication at a public hearing. Sanchez moved to suppress the evidence recovered from the search, arguing the criminal court's suppression order was binding upon the Commission. The Commission denied Sanchez's motion, ...

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