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Former deputy prosecutor suspended for eavesdropping on defendants

LA PORTE COUNTY, Ind. -- A former chief deputy prosecutor for La Porte has been suspended from the Indiana Bar for at least four years for eavesdropping on confidential attorney-client conversations, according to the final order issued by the Indiana Supreme Court.

The allegations against Robert Neary were brought in December 2015. He was accused of professional misconduct in relation to two homicide investigations while serving as chief deputy prosecutor in La Porte County.

The court found the allegations were substantiated and he was suspended from the bar for four years without automatic reinstatement. The suspension will be effective December 18, 2017.

The suspension is a result of two separate cases - one in Michigan City and one in Long Beach.

Brian Taylor

According to court records on March 14, 2015, Brian Taylor was being held on allegations he killed Simone Bush. Neary was summoned to the Michigan City Police station to assist with any issues that could arise.

Neary and detectives escorted Taylor's attorney to the interview room and told him to flip a switch so no one could listen to their conversation.

However, flipping the switch only disabled the recording system. The audio and video feeds were controlled in the 'war room.'

Neary and several others went into the 'war room' and listened to the conversation between the defendant and his attorney, according to court documents.

During the conversation Taylor allegedly told his attorney where he hid the gun in the incident under investigation. Several minutes later, the audio and video was disabled and the 'war room' was cleared.

Neary told officers they could not recover the weapon, but two detectives went to the site identified by Taylor and recovered a gun, reports said.

Initially, Neary did not notify Taylor's attorney about hearing the confidential conversation. Three days later, when the police chief learned of the incident, he told Neary he needed to inform Taylor's counsel.

Taylor's counsel was notified and Neary self-reported himself to the disciplinary commission.

John Larkin

The other case cited involved an investigation by the Long Beach Police Department into the shooting death of John Larkin's wife.

Larkin had agreed to give a statement in exchange for a charge of voluntary manslaughter instead of murder. Neary, Larkin's counsel, the La Porte County Prosecutor, and an LBPD officer were present for the interview. The interview room was monitored by an audio and video feed sent to a control room elsewhere in the police station.

After about an hour, the participants took an 11 minute break. During the break, Larkin and his attorney stayed in the interview room.

The prosecutor and Larkin's attorney assumed the LBPD officer would turn off the recording during the break, but it was not turned off. It recorded the discussion between Larkin and his attorney about several confidential matters and defense strategy, according to reports.

Neary viewed the DVD of the interview, including the confidential discussion during the break, a month later, reports said.

The court noted it should have been apparent to Neary that the discussion was privileged.

Larkin's council filed a motion to dismiss the charge against Larkin after receiving a copy of the DVD with the privileged discussion included.

In Neary's official, unsealed response, he recited the contents of the discussion and attached a copy of the DVD and a written transcript which included the confidential discussion during the break.

The court sealed the documents.

Violations

The Indiana Supreme Court found Neary violated the following Indiana Rules of Professional Conduct.

  • 4.4(a): Using methods of obtaining evidence that violate the legal rights of a third person (Count 1).
  • 8.4(d): Engaging in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice (Counts 1 and 2).

In the decision, the justices wrote about the effects on the state's ability to prosecute these cases.

"Respondent’s conduct in both cases fundamentally infringed on privileged attorney-client communications and, at an absolute minimum, has caused significant delays and evidentiary hurdles in the prosecutions of Taylor and Larkin, even assuming they still can be prosecuted at all."

During the discussion about sanctions, the justices took into account the fact Neary has not been disciplined before and that several people testified about his good standing in the community.

He will be suspended for four years without automatic reinstatement. At the end of the suspension period, he must petition for reinstatement and pay the costs of the proceeding.

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