Bennett campaigning ethics hearing further delayed

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Former Indiana Schools Superintendent Tony Bennett’s hearing over charges that he violated state ethics laws was pushed back Monday to August as defense attorneys review thousands of pages of evidence turned over by the state inspector general.

The State Ethics Commission announced Bennett’s case would be heard Aug. 14, instead of May 8. Bennett’s lawyers and Inspector General David Thomas agreed to the delay.

Bennett is accused of using state resources, including staff and state computers, in his failed 2012 re-election bid. The inspector general filed the charges last November, shortly after The Associated Press reported Bennett had kept Republican Party fundraising lists on his state computers and top staff had been campaigning on state time.

Bennett issued a statement in November saying he had done nothing wrong and would cooperate with the investigation. He hired a pair of high-profile defense attorneys - Larry Mackey and Jason Barclay, with the Indianapolis firm Barnes and Thornburg.

Barclay said Monday that the defense team received 10 binders worth of documents from the inspector general’s office last month in response to their discovery request and is reviewing their contents.

“You can imagine when you’ve been in office for four years, there’s lots of email communications, calendar entries. I would describe it as documents that are typical in any state elected official’s office,” he said.

Depositions of witnesses could begin after the review of evidence is complete, Barclay said.

Bennett resigned as Florida’s schools chief last August after the AP published emails showing he had changed the state’s school-grading formula to benefit the Christel House Academy, a charter school founded by a major Republican donor. A bipartisan legislative investigation issued last September found that Bennett and his top staff were not up to the task of crafting a new school grading formula, but did not delve into any political motivation behind the grade changes.

Since then, Bennett has moved back to Indiana and returned to consulting. He is currently working with the national student testing company ACT, which is marketing its Common Core-aligned test to different states. Indiana joined the Common Core in 2010, under the guidance of Bennett and then-Gov. Mitch Daniels, but a conservative backlash made Indiana the first state to exit Common Core this year.

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