Posts filed under 'Indiana Courts'

Courts Commission Minutes on Elected Judges in St. Joe County

On October 3, 2008, the Commission on Courts held a hearing on the issue of elected judges in St. Joseph and Lake Counties. The minutes to that meeting have now been posted, and give a good overview of how the discussion went. I am a member of the Commission again this year, and was glad to take part in a lively debate on the topic.

The Commission will not vote on it’s final report until October 24, 2008.

October 3, 2008 Courts Commission Minutes
WNDU coverage of the meeting (with video)

1 comment October 14th, 2008

School fees decision from the Indiana Supreme Court

The Indiana Supreme Court recently held that “service fees” charged by school corporations are prohibited under Indiana’s constitutional guarantee of a “free and equal” education.

In Nagy v. Evansville-Vanderburgh County School Corp., the court, however, decided not to address the issue of whether charging for school textbook rental was also a violation of the state Constitution.

The South Bend Tribune made their opinion of the Court’s decision clear in an editorial this week:

So just what should an Indiana Supreme Court justice be expected to do for his public service pay? Answer the hard questions? Or just the easy ones?

It seems to us that the court took the easy way out with its ruling on Nagy v. Evansville-Vanderburgh County School Corp. The justices settled the specific matter regarding the constitutionality of student services fees. But they punted the question of textbook rental fees back to the Indiana General Assembly — even though legislators long have ducked the state’s duty to fully fund textbooks for public school students.

I agree that textbook rental fees should be eliminated so that Indiana students may receive the benefit of a truly free education.

However, I also tend to agree with Justice Sullivan’s dissent, which takes a more deferential approach to Legislative authority to determine what exactly is funded in the public education system.

The Court’s opinion is available here (.pdf), and more coverage is available at Advance Indiana and the Indiana Law Blog.

6 comments April 11th, 2006

Removal of the Judicial branch?

A bill that could replace the entire judicial branch of government jumped into the mix yesterday.

The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette reports:

Six House Republicans on Monday passed a bill that some judges likened to a political coup…

“It’s hard to see this as anything other than a potential naked use of political power to remove five justices from the Court of Appeals and one justice from the Indiana Supreme Court,” said Court of Appeals Judge John T. Sharpnack.

What the bill (HB 1419 – not updated as of this posting) essentially does is replace the current members of the Judicial Nominating Commission with new, partisan members. These new members would then vote on retention recommendations – and their recommendations would actually show on a ballot that Hoosiers would vote on.

Setting aside the ridiculous notion that partisan “recommendations” could be allowed to appear on an actual voting ballot – this bill actually would throw out the existing judicial branch and replace them with Daniels appointees.


Can you imagine the uproar if a President of the United States tried to remove the all justices of the Supreme Court, as well as all of the federal appellate judges in order to replace them with his own nominees? Any President - Democrat or Republican – would be mercilessly pilloried.

In addition to the Journal Gazette, there was a brief mention in the Indianapolis Star, as well as mentions in the Indiana Law Blog and TDW. But no one else appears to be covering the issue yet.

Let me know if you have any feelings about this bill.

3 comments January 24th, 2006

2006 State of the Judiciary

Less well known than the Governor’s State of the State address is the annual “State of the Judiciary” address that occurs on the following day.

As required by Article 7, Section 3 of the Indiana Constitution, Chief Justice Randall Shepard today addressed a joint session of the General Assembly on the current status of the Indiana Judicial system – from courts, to attorneys, to jury pools.

Justice Shepard was accompanied into the House chamber by a procession of the other members of the Indiana Supreme Court, as well as many members of the Indiana Court of Appeals.


You can find the text of Justice Shepard’s remarks here.

1 comment January 12th, 2006

Courts and Criminal Code passes three bills

The Courts and Criminal Code Committee met today and considered three pieces of legislation.

HB 1157, to increase the number of judges in Marion County Superior Court, passed 10-0. As I have discussed earlier, this legislation was also endorsed by the Commission on Courts interim study committee in October.

HB 1156, another judges bill endorsed by the Commission on Courts, passed 9-0. After amendment in committee it:
- limits the amount of an excessive property tax levy to the estimate made by the local unit operating the court during its first year;
- allows the Supreme Court to determine a new method for forming jury pool lists –eliminating the voter registration lists as the sole source, and allowing for expansion to drivers license lists, tax rolls, etc; (so no more excuses for not registering to vote!)
- adds a second judge to the Jackson County Superior ourt.

Finally, HB 1016 would allow courts to charge pretrial detainees for “pretrial services,” such as drug rehab or domestic abuse programs. There is some concern over this legislation, as it would allow fees to be charged to people who have not yet been found guilty. However, several counties in the state already operate similar programs, and Representative Ralph Ayres (R- Chesterton) has agreed to work on further tightening up the language.

A second reading amendment could remove city and town courts from the program and eliminate a court’s ability to prevent license reinstatement for non-payment.


Tonight I will be attending the Governor’s State of the State address, and will report back with details from the event.

Add comment January 11th, 2006

Sentencing Policy and management of sex offenders

hands on barsThe Sentencing Policy Study Committee convened last Friday to hear testimony on the topic of sex offender management.

Jane Seigel of the Indiana Judicial Center discussed Indiana’s participation in the Interstate Compact for Adult Offender Supervision. The Compact allows states to keep track of registered sex offenders that move across state lines.

Last month, Massachusetts became the final state to ratify the compact - ensuring comprehensive national cooperation. Before full participation in the compact, it was difficult – if not impossible – to know when sex offenders from outside Indiana decided to take up residence in our communities. Now, officials are given notice of every individual offender moving into their jurisdiction and are able to keep them under a supervision program.

Steve Johnson of the Indiana Prosecuting Attorney’s Council gave the Committee an update on the current Sex Offender Registry statutes in Indiana, and David Donahue, Commissioner of the Indiana Department of Correction made a presentation on the upcoming launch of a new website for the Indiana Sex and Violent Offender Registry. The new website will provide mapping capabilities, and all data will be fully uploaded to the National Sex Offender Public Registry.

We also heard testimony on the challenges of supervising sex offenders in different types of jurisdictions. Mike Pate from the Greene County Probation Department discussed issues relating to rural communities, and Christine Kerl, of the Marion County Probation Department talked about uniquely urban issues.

Finally, the Committee made two legislative recommendations.

The first recommendation was to authorize courts to charge fees to defray the costs of individuals placed on pretrial supervision programs.

The second recommendation was to establish “re-entry” courts (similar to existing “drug courts”) that would allow judges to supervise the conditions of inmates’ release back into the community. Allen County has operated a similar program for four years, and has reduced recidivism by 50% in the offenders it has supervised.

The Committee will resume meeting after the adjournment of the next session of the Legislature next Spring. Feel free to let me know if you would like to suggest topics for the committee’s consideration.

1 comment November 3rd, 2005

Commission on Courts Final Meeting

The final meeting of the Commission on Courts took place on October 20, 2005.

After hearing testimony on the need for additional capacity to keep up with growing workloads in the Indiana Court of Appeals, the Commission approved the final report for the year.


The recommendations included new judicial officers for Marion County, a new court for Jackson County, a reorganization of the Madison County Courts, and a change in the election cycle for the Hendricks County Courts.

We also recommended a clarification of the “garnishee defendant” issue, and the confusion as a result of HB 1113 as to whether a garnishee should be considered a defendant in a civil case.

The Attorney General provided the Commission with a written opinion that concluded:

Based on the garnishee defendant’s role as a “defendant” outside of the original action, the garnishee defendant is named as the holder of wages or funds for the defendant that are subject to claims of the plaintiff. Our preliminary research would indicate that the “garnishee defendant” is not a “judgment defendant” to the original action and therefore the fees assessed to such defendants would not apply to the garnishee.

A formal opinion is due this week. That should help clear up some of the confusion as to whether plaintiffs are charged fees for garnishees – but we will likely try to seek a statutory clarification in the upcoming legislative session.

The final Commission report should eventually be available on the website.

1 comment October 24th, 2005

Community Corrections update to the Sentencing Policy Study Committee

sentencingThe Sentencing Policy Study Committee met Wednesday afternoon to hear more testimony on community corrections programs. Julie von Arx, the Deputy Commissioner for the Indiana Department of Correction’s Re-Entry and Community Programs and Deanna McMurray, the Director of Community Corrections gave an assessment of existing programs.

Community Corrections programs are implemented in 68 counties across the state, and include programs such as Work Release, Home Detention, Day Reporting, and Juvenile Alternatives. A state budget of $27 million funds these efforts with the goal of reducing crime, and diverting offenders from the more costly Department of Corrections prison facilities.

One problem that exists with the program is a lack of statistical analysis and performance measurement. Without any measurement of results, there is no true accountability for the funding that the State provides.

Another issue is that half of the program participants are misdemeanants. If a major justification for state funding of these programs is relieving costs to the state Department of Corrections, perhaps more of the state dollars should be targeted toward adjudicating felons.

Finally, the Committee discussed the lack of integration between various community correction programs, re-entry programs, and community transition programs. Ideally, all of these efforts should be united under one umbrella to manage offenders both diverted from prison, and those returning to the community.

The Committee set a tentative next meeting date of October 28, 2005.

Add comment October 14th, 2005

October Commission on Courts

courtsThis Monday, the Commission on Courts met in the Statehouse to consider more requests for changes and additions to local judicial systems.

The biggest request was made by the Marion County Superior Court. Judges Jane Magnus-Simpson and Cale Bradford made the presentation with support from John Kautzman of the Indianapolis Bar Association.

Their statistical analysis showed a definite need for new judicial officers. Of particular note was the fact that while St. Joseph and Allen Counties’ judicial officers are 100% funded by the state, Marion County has only 60% of its 70 judicial officers paid for with state funds.

Their proposal concluded with a request for four new judges and four new magistrates over the next several years. The Indianapolis Star wrote about the issue here.

Other requests made to the Commission included a new juvenile magistrate for Lake County and a proposal by Madison County to convert their County Courts into Superior Courts.

I was not able to stay for the entire session, as I also had to attend a meeting of the Regulatory Flexibility Committee the same day. I will post about that meeting tomorrow.

2 comments October 4th, 2005

Commission on Courts - September 2005 Meeting

Last Friday, September 16th, the Commission on Courts met in the Statehouse to consider several issues.

First on the agenda was a report on the 2004 Weighted Caseload study. The Weighted Caseload Study began in 1993 as a way to measure objectively the trial court caseloads across the Indiana. The first report was generated in 1997, and annual follow-ups have been produced ever since.

This is an important tool for the Legislature to use as we consider which counties have the greatest need for new courts, balanced against the limited resources available.

The 2004 study is not yet online, but you can access past reports and more information through the Indiana Supreme Court Division of State Court Administration.

Next, the Commission heard testimony from Judges and elected officials from Jackson County who were petitioning for a recommendation to the Legislature for an additional court of general jurisdiction. Jackson County ranks sixth in need on the 2004 Caseload study and made a compelling case for an additional court.

Finally, Judge Lew Gregory of the Greenwood City Court provided testimony on his proposal for legislation to allow some qualified city and town courts to become “municipal” courts of record. In support of his proposed new designation, he cited current abuses of the trial de novo rules, the potential for new “municipal” courts to relieve overly-burdened counties, and the expansion of petitions for post-conviction relief.

The Commission will vote on the cumulative recommendations from all hearings at the final meeting of the year.

For information on all Interim Study Committees, click here.

September 20th, 2005


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