Indiana’s highest court does not believe the removal of the attorneys representing the man accused of killing two Delphi teenagers was “a necessary last resort,” a formal opinion says.
The Indiana Supreme Court issued a formal written opinion Thursday morning on their decision to reinstate Franklin attorney Andrew Baldwin and Logansport attorney Brad Rozzi as the attorneys for Richard Allen, 51, of Delphi. This comes three weeks after the court issued an order restoring Baldwin and Rozzi — Allen’s original attorneys — to his case, while also denying Allen’s request to replace the special judge overseeing the case, Judge Frances Gull of Allen County.
13-year-old Abigail Williams and 14-year-old Liberty German were found dead in a rugged, heavily wooded area near the Monon High Bridge in their hometown of Delphi on Feb. 14, 2017. The teens were killed after a relative dropped them off at a hiking trail near the Monon High Bridge, located about 60 miles northwest of Indianapolis.
Allen was arrested for the teens’ murders on Oct. 28, 2022, and subsequently charged. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges. Rozzi and Baldwin were assigned as his public defenders.
A leak of evidence by a former employee of Baldwin in October led Gull to remove both him and Rozzi as Allen’s legal counsel. The former employee suspected in the leak, Mitch Thomas Westerman, 41, is charged with conversion, a Class A misdemeanor, in Johnson County. Westerman’s case is pending.
The Supreme Court’s 21-page written opinion issued Thursday found Gull failed to prove Baldwin and Rozzi’s removal was “a last resort that was necessary,” and that the judge had other options to handle attorney conduct.
Additionally, Carroll County prosecutors and Gull never argued that statements made in and out of court by Allen’s attorneys harmed his defense. They did argue that the leak of evidence undermines Allen’s defense, but didn’t explain how, Justice Derek R. Molter wrote in the majority opinion, being joined by three other justices.
They also didn’t argue the mistakes reflected that Baldwin and Rozzi were “incompetent” to handle Allen’s defense or explain why disqualification was necessary to protect Allen’s right to competent attorneys, the opinion says.
“Notably, neither the State nor the special judge direct us to any case concluding that issues like these—either in isolation or combination—rendered counsel constitutionally ineffective or were sufficient to warrant disqualification,” Molter wrote.
Allen just wanted to continue with the attorneys the trial court chose for him, insisting on “the continuity of counsel rather than his choice of counsel,” the opinion shows.
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Justice Geoffrey G. Slaughter, however, did not agree that Baldwin and Rozzi should’ve been reinstated. In his dissent, Slaughter said Allen failed to meet “the demanding threshold” for their reinstatement.
“He establishes neither that [Gull and the Carroll Circuit Court] breached a clear legal duty entitling him to an unquestioned right to relief nor that an ordinary appeal would provide an inadequate remedy,” Slaughter wrote.
Slaughter’s objection had less to do with the court’s legal analysis, but rather the issuance of a writ reinstating Baldwin and Rozzi given the typical way attorney disqualification comes to the court. Had it come to the court through an appeal or after a final judgment, he would have been more open to Allen’s argument that Gull had erred in threatening to disqualify his attorneys after finding them “grossly negligent and incompetent,” according to the opinion.
Later, Slaughter writes that while Gull’s actions raise a potential constitutional problem, under current law it was “far from clear” that she exceeded her authority. He later says with their decision, the court allows Allen to “short circuit” the appellate process, muddies up the court’s theory of law in this “important area” and invites future rule deviations.
“In my view, these institutional costs far outweigh the benefits to Allen,” Slaughter writes.
The Supreme Court’s Jan. 18 order also unanimously rejected Allen’s request to remove Judge Gull from the trial, and to have a trial begin within 70 days. All five justices agreed on this matter in the written opinion, including Slaughter.
Allen’s defense team failed to meet the standard to remove a judge, and Gull’s “efforts did not reflect any bias or prejudice.” Allen also didn’t identify anything Gull had done that showed she isn’t impartial, the opinion says.
“Just the opposite, the special judge explained she disqualified counsel because she was trying to protect Allen’s right to the effective assistance of counsel,” Molter wrote.
Gull had said Allen’s attorneys had made mistakes that rendered their representation ineffective, but her statements were based on what she observed in court, not from outside sources. While her conclusion that Baldwin and Rozzi were “constitutionally ineffective was too harsh,” she wasn’t wrong to be concerned about the leak of evidence, according to the opinion.
“Though she mistakenly hit defense counsel’s eject button instead of the case’s lockdown button, she was right to try to get the situation under control quickly and decisively,” Molter said.
On Wednesday, Gull rejected a similar request for her removal from Allen’s attorneys, citing the Supreme Court’s decision, according to media reports.
As for the trial, justices said that Allen and his attorneys prepared a motion for a speedy trial but never filed it. Because Gull never ruled on it, the Supreme Court did not have a basis to grant his request. His attorneys could still make the request in Gull’s court, according to the opinion.
Allen is expected to be back in court on March 18 for a pretrial hearing. Gull is expected to consider motions by the prosecution to add murder and kidnapping charges against Allen, along with contempt of court allegations against Baldwin and Rozzi, according to media reports.