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Lafayette attorney said he wanted "to smack" a woman in court

A Tippecanoe County woman says a Lafayette attorney assaulted her in the courtroom.

Posted: Dec. 7, 2017 6:19 PM
Updated: Dec. 7, 2017 7:23 PM

TIPPECANOE COUNTY, Ind. (WLFI) — A Tippecanoe County woman said a Lafayette attorney assaulted her in the courtroom.

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Court records reflect most of what Lafayette attorney Ed Chosnek said during the incident.

It happened during a contested will trial.

The case involved three siblings fighting over their father's $400,000 estate.

Chosnek represented two of the siblings, John L. Thompson Jr. and Marcee Brody. They claim their sister, Sandra Riggs, manipulated their father into signing most of his money over to her.

During the trial last May, Riggs said Chosnek's witness was lying on the witness stand.

"My wife objected and had evidence to establish that she was committing perjury and Ed Chosnek then threatened to assault her," said Sandra's husband, Steven Riggs.

The official court transcript shows Chosnek said something "inaudible" and then said "just smack you in the head."

When asked what Chosnek was doing with his body when he said that, Sandra explained, "He had brought his backhand at the time that he had said this to me to my head to hit me, to follow through with his threat to me and I had to step backwards to avoid the hit, so, instantly I called him out, did you just threaten to smack me in the head? And his response is he'd love to."

Furthermore, when Sandra Riggs tried to tell the jury why her father said he gave her the money, Judge Thomas Busch wouldn't allow it and even told the jury to conclude that the testimony she would have given would have been unfavorable to her case.

The jury ended up ruling against Riggs in the trial but the Indiana Court of Appeals later reversed and remanded the decision saying Judge Busch abused his discretion.

Her husband Steven said, "I have no explanation for that, other than that he is helping to favor one side over the other. Because there is no legal justification for his ruling."

The Indiana Supreme Court upheld the Indiana Court of Appeals decision and now it's being sent back for re-trial. On Wednesday, Judge Busch had a chance to dismiss the case again because Chosnek failed to pay a mandatory filing fee when the case started in 2014. But he denied Riggs' motion to dismiss and now it is set for March of next year under the next Circuit Court Judge, Sean Persin.

As we told you in June, Busch announced he would resign at the end of 2017 with three years left on his term.

"My kids live in different parts of the world and I want to see them more and so we are going to be doing a lot of traveling," said Busch in June. 

The Indiana Court of Appeals released its decision a little more than a week after Busch announced his retirement.

As for Chosnek, Riggs made an official complaint to the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission. It replied to the complaint in part, "Corrective action has been taken against Mr. Chosnek."

We asked for specifics about the corrective action but weren't given any. Instead, the court would only refer us to the online chart showing that seven caution and warning letters were sent to attorneys this year.

"Would a warning letter be enough?" asked News 18's Kayla Sullivan to Rigg's husband Steven. 

"Absolutely not." He said. "I was shocked that the Indiana Disciplinary Commission themselves did not ask to hear the audio tape."

But News 18 did and it wasn't easy.

Judge Busch denied our request twice. So, we took the matter to the Indiana Public Access Counselor. After a month-long investigation, he released an opinion in our favor on Wednesday.

Thursday morning, News 18's Kayla Sullivan listened to the tape to hear if Chosnek's "inaudible" portion was in fact, inaudible and it was. Sullivan said it was clear he said something before saying "just smack you in the head," but it was difficult to make out the words.

Riggs said it doesn't matter what Chosnek said before the smack you in the head comment. 

"We know from the transcript, and I know from my wife's reaction after she stepped out of court sobbing and trembling that she was assaulted," said Riggs. "And Ed Chosnek thinks apparently that he's above the law does not have to be accountable for assaulting a citizen, a member of the public during a court proceeding."

News 18 reached out to Ed Chosnek, Judge Busch and several attorneys involved in this case for comment but they all have declined.

Riggs says she wants an apology from Chosnek and a fair trial next year.

But mostly she wanted this case brought to light.

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