SOUTH BEND – It could be a long court battle before we know whether tapes in the South Bend Police Department wiretapping controversy will be heard publicly. In a court hearing Tuesday, Circuit Court Judge Michael Gotsch said he’s giving federal judges 60 days to make a move on the two cases filed in district court.
If the federal judges don’t move fast enough, Gotsch said he’ll reconsider moving forward in his own courtroom in a Dec. 3 hearing.
Tuesday’s hearing was a response to a subpoena filed by South Bend’s Common Council last month to get the tapes released. It’s all connected to the March demotion of Police Chief Darryl Boykins and firing of Communications Director Karen DePaepe.
After that, DePaepe said the content of those tapes from a recorded phone line in the police department's detective bureau contained racist, derogatory and possibly illegal conversations.
Three different judges are now handling three different lawsuits. Who filed first could ultimately make all the difference.
According to Gotsch, it’s something every attorney knows. In court Tuesday, he said, “There is such a thing as a race to the courthouse. The city got to the federal courthouse first.”
That could set the order for how this case will play out in the courts.
August 30 – The City of South Bend filed what’s called a Declaratory Action in federal court. Mayor Pete Buttigieg said the city wants a judge to decide what should happen to the tapes.
Sept. 14 – South Bend’s Common Council filed its subpoena against the city in circuit court, asking for the tapes to be released.
Sept. 19 – Four police officers and one of their wives filed suit in federal court, claiming they were illegally recorded on that line in the detective bureau.
Gotsch said he does not want to step on the federal judges’ toes, which is why he’s giving the two cases filed in federal court time to move forward before he intervenes.
Attorneys representing the Common Council and Boykins said they understand Gotsch’s decision but feel it will only cause the wiretapping controversy to drag on longer.
“I can tell you it’s gonna be a lot longer process in federal court; it’s going to be a lot more expensive for taxpayers to be in federal court,” said Common Council attorney Spencer Walton.
But the city isn’t saying how much it could all cost.
After Tuesday’s hearing, City Attorney Aladean DeRose said she thinks “the judge made a reasonable and good decision.”