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Defense argues case against Wabash Trustee Jennifer Teising is a “constitutional nightmare” in final day of trial

Teising and her attorney, Karen Celestino-Horseman, walking out of the Tippecanoe County Courthouse Wednesday (WBAA News/Ben Thorp)

Wabash Township Trustee Jennifer Teising’s trial ended Wednesday, as the state called a final witness and both sides made closing arguments.

Teising is charged with 21 counts of theft for taking her trustee salary while not a legal resident of the township, charges that she denies.

In court, Teising’s defense has argued that her voter registration and mailing address have been maintained at a 132 Knox Drive address in West Lafayette, despite long trips around and outside of the state.

As their final witness, the state called the vice chair of the Tippecanoe County Democratic Party Steve Snyder, who testified that Teising had indicated she had plans to sell her house, resign from her position, and move to Florida.

Snyder said that Teising had created a widely known “narrative of intentions” around these plans. As far as he could see, Teising had carried out two of her three aims: selling her house and moving to Florida.

Teising’s attorney, Karen Celestino-Horseman, pushed back, noting that Snyder did not know for certain that Teising had moved to Florida.

“That’s true,” Snyder conceded. But he added that at one point, he FaceTimed Teising while she was walking her dog along a Florida beach.

“She didn’t tell me [she had moved],” he said. “She showed me.”

During final arguments, the state argued the COVID-19 pandemic had created a “silver lining” for Teising that allowed her to move to Florida without resigning - to “have her cake and eat it.”

Teising, the state argued, had created an intentional paper trail leading to 132 Knox Drive, in an effort to defraud the township.

The state pointed specifically to a section of Indiana Code (IC 3-5-5-9), which outlines that a voter, political candidate, or elected official who resides in another state for an “indefinite” period of time would forfeit Indiana residency “even if the person intends to return at some time.”

Teising’s defense argued that the applicable case law and sections of state code required the judge to focus primarily on Teising’s intent. At all times, defense argued, it was Teising’s intention to return to Greater Lafayette.

The defense also argued that the case created a “constitutional nightmare” for the judge, potentially opening a “proverbial slippery slope” where it would be unclear whether lawmakers were in violation of residency requirements. State statutes, according to the defense, don’t say how many nights someone needs to stay in an area before being in danger of losing residency.

“Is going away for a month okay?” Celestino-Horseman asked. “What about two months? How do you know when the law is broken?”

Ultimately, the defense contended that the state failed to meet the high burden of proof needed to bring the case at all - calling for the judge to dismiss.

The judge said she would take the case under advisement.

It is not clear when a final judgment will be released.