Switzerland Co. Candidate Clerkin Reaches Plea To End Trial
By Mike Perleberg
Christopher Clerkin pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge, bringing his jury trial to an end Thursday. Photo via Chris Clerkin for Switzerland County Commissioner District 1 Facebook page.
(Vevay, Ind.) – A guilty plea has been entered in the midst of a Switzerland County commissioner candidate’s jury trial.
Christopher Clerkin has been on trial this week in Switzerland Circuit Court. The former 14-year county highway department employee and superintendent was arrested in 2014 when he was accused of keeping more than $6,300 from the sale of county-owned scrap metal. He was charged with Theft, Official Misconduct, and Failure to Deposit Public Funds – all class D felonies.
Clerkin, 47, turned down previous plea deals and took his case to trial on Monday. As the trial proceeds were about to continue Thursday morning, he accepted a plea deal.
According to defense attorney Jud McMillin, the official misconduct and failure to deposit charges will be dismissed. The felony theft charge has been reduced to a class A misdemeanor.
Following the plea agreement, a special judge appointed from Ripley County ordered Clerking to serve nine months on non-reporting probation. He must also pay $3,000 in restitution to the county, McMillin said. Clerkin’s conviction can be expunged after he completes probation.
Clerkin is trying to win the Republican nomination for Switzerland County Commissioner in District 1 against incumbent County Commissioner Josh South.
With the case settled, the question is whether Clerkin can continue to run for office. McMillin believes so.
“Technically he entered a plea to a felony but Indiana law allows it to be entered as a misdemeanor, so he only received a misdemeanor. It sounds strange I know. It’s a rarely used portion of the law,” McMillin said.
However, Section 3-8-1-5 of the Indiana Code states in part that a candidate is disqualified if “The subsequent reduction of a felony to a Class A misdemeanor under IC 35-50-2-7 or IC 35-38-1-1.5 after the… …person has pleaded guilty or nolo contendere to a felony”.
Clerkin himself did not respond to Eagle Country 99.3’s request for comment Thursday. He did, however, post an explanation and his reaction to the plea deal on his Facebook page.
As you all know this has been a big week for me! And today I took a MISDEMENOR charge in court. A couple of things that went thru my mind as I made this very hard decision. #1 I always have put the public ahead of my family, so as I set in that courtroom I look over my right shoulder and see my sister, father and wife. All their for my support along with others. I realize that none of them need to be in their, knowing that they have heart problems. As I scan a little farther I see my stepmother who just last week had her own issues with her heart. I think to myself this needs to end! #2 i was asked to come to the Judges Chambers after court to meet with the prosecuters, state police officer and my attorney. All completely off the record. As I stepped into this office I was told that I would have complete immunity for anything discussed in this office. I took the seat just like they requested. As we sit in that office all involved stated ” Chris you are a good man and we want you to continue to serve the public in this community. Keep in mind at this point I truely feel we are winning this case. I am offended a misdemeanor but with my family in mind I wonder what is the right answer? this whole case was very confusing and I wonder how much the jury was catching. At that point I decided (family in mind) to take the misdemenor, yes it was a very hard decision to make, but for once I put my family first! Now as Mr. Barr is posting all over Facebook and may even place on the news tonight that I am a convicted felon. Keep in mind that every move he makes is half-cocked and full of shit! For gods sake he is a reporter and counts on ratings! Now lets end this story. I am ready to start a new chapter in my life and as part of that new chapter I would love to be your next commissioner! Always remember haters will always be haters! Thank you! for your support. Chris Clerkin