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A decade of court data is revealed

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Hoosier trial court judges don’t need a 1,782-page multi-volume report to tell them caseloads have increased in the past decade or that in recent years, Indiana has seen a sharp increase in cases involving abused or neglected children and parental rights terminations.

They recognize that trend by seeing the faces that appear before them in courtrooms throughout Indiana each week. And the number-filled report only confirms what they’ve suspected is true – many judicial officers are working at maximum capacity.

But what the annual Judicial Service Report, released in December 2011 by the Indiana Supreme Court’s Division of State Court Administration, provides individual judges is proof that they are not alone. The statistics reveal that similar trends are playing out throughout the state.

“The work of the courts cannot be summed up in numbers, but the 2010 statistics report does offer a snapshot of the volume, breadth, challenges and success stories in each of the courthouses in Indiana’s 92 counties,” Indiana Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard said.

One clear piece of data offered from the report: the state needs more judges.

Weighted caseload statistics show that Indiana needs nearly 600 judicial officers but only has 441, meaning that judges are working at 135 percent based on the number of people handling the caseload statewide.

The comprehensive report shows a dip in the number of new criminal and civil case filings in 2010 as compared to 2009. The report covers the final year of a decade that saw a steady increase in criminal and civil cases in the state’s courts. While Indiana’s population grew by 6 percent from 2000 to 2010, the number of criminal cases increased by nearly three times that amount.

Ten years ago, the courts were seeing about the same number of cases filed each year until a gradual dip began in 2003 that lasted three years. Filings rose again starting in 2006 and hit a record level of more than 2 million filings in 2008. But in the past year, the small decrease from about 1.9 million new cases in 2009 to about 1.8 million in 2010 may reflect more accurate record keeping rather than a slowdown in court activity.

The report also shows a 27 percent decrease in murder filings from 2002 to 2010. Mortgage foreclosure filings are down but remain well-above where they were a decade ago.

“If you dig down deep enough, almost everything is still at record levels except for traffic violations,” Shepard said.

Traffic violation numbers are a bit suspect, the chief justice said. In the past, local courts were erroneously recording the same infraction multiple times. That’s getting corrected with the use of the Odyssey case management system that’s being implemented in local courts.courts

In reviewing the annual court numbers, Shepard pointed to the statistics on neglected and abused children as one of the areas that stands out the most to him. In 2010, Indiana saw 12,160 filings that were Child In Need of Services cases. That’s up from about 9,000 cases filed in 2000.

Shepard said the near-record number of CHINS cases likely reflects a more aggressive approach by the state’s child-protection services, and the spikes follow with times when the state hired more child welfare workers to manage those cases. There aren’t necessarily more instances of abuse or neglect happening, but rather the situations are being recognized and addressed more frequently, he said.

That more aggressive approach may also explain the 126 percent increase during the past decade in the number of cases involving parental rights terminations, the report shows.

“It keeps those children from getting lost in the system,” Shepard said, referring to the state’s more aggressive approach on these types of cases.

He also noted the rise in the number of court-appointed special advocates for children, which was at 3,268 volunteers in 2010, but could rise even higher because of the record 1,010 new CASA volunteers trained in 2011.

“That’s a good thing,” Shepard said. “It means a couple thousand more children who didn’t have advocates before now will.”

In dealing with increased caseloads but fewer resources to add new courts and judicial officers, state court officials said the judiciary has had to become more creative and efficient in how they’re administering justice. David Remondini, chief deputy executive director of the Division of State Court Administration, said the chief justice’s leadership in asking judges to volunteer their time and effort on specific projects and tasks in order to work more efficiently has been a positive move that has helped the state handle the caseload changes. When people volunteer for projects and tasks, it is typically because they know the chief justice believes in it and is passionate about the topic, and that it’s not something that will be a passing fad or a quick headline.

“That leadership creates efficiency for our court system,” Remondini said.

In Marion County, Superior Judge Robyn Moberly said the county system has worked creatively and efficiently for years despite the disproportionate share of workload that judges face.

That means utilizing an e-filing system for mortgage foreclosure and collection cases and assigning the judges a narrow range of case types to establish areas of expertise they can use to better move cases along.

“Thanks to many initiatives that steer cases away from courtroom conflict, we’re able to handle the volume very well, in my opinion,” she said. “We’re able to maintain a high level of job satisfaction for our judges.  In fact, in my court, our number of pending cases has dropped significantly in the past four years while the new filings have increased, and I think that’s partly because of the growth of mediation and because we take advantage of all of the alternatives to courtroom conflict that our county offers.”

The multi-volume 2010 Indiana Judicial Service Report can be found at the Supreme Court’s website at www.courts.in.gov.•

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  • Fewer judges
    I disagree that Indiana needs more judges. I do realize that there are likely things I don't know, but having been under Court jurisdiction for the past 15 years for no other reason than having been married and having children ... I just don't believe that statement is true. I think that PEOPLE need to be more informed about marriage and similar relationships ... I can guarantee (as I prefer to learn negative lessons vicariously, when possible)that had I KNOWN ANYTHING about "the Family Court system", I would certainly have thought long and hard before marrying. Any system that allows children to be torn away from parents ONLY because one spouse and, from what I am now told was an unethical attorney, who was fine sending intimidating letters to me threatening felony charges (for trying to get a protective order when child exchanges were always yelling, threat filled experiences that terrorized our children) or totally blowing off my request to have my car returned so that I could resume visitation ... instead, I received threats of conversion to be filed against me if I didn't return paperwork (relating to spouse's trade in of a jointly titled vehicle during marriage and purchase of one solely titled in his). I am of the opinion that many divorces are made because people lack skills and they lack an appreciation of reality. However, there is now a huge industry built on the failure of parents and the failure of marriages. Since strong, healthy families supposedly are the bedrock of a strong, healthy nation, I can only surmise that something is totally awry ... we need less judges ... we need more wisdom, guidance and good sense ... and to leave jurisprudence as a course of last resort for truly hopeless cases.

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  1. Where may I find an attorney working Pro Bono? Many issues with divorce, my Disability, distribution of IRA's, property, money's and pressured into agreement by my attorney. Leaving me far less than 5% of all after 15 years of marriage. No money to appeal, disabled living on disability income. Attorney's decision brought forward to judge, no evidence ever to finalize divorce. Just 2 weeks ago. Please help.

  2. For the record no one could answer the equal protection / substantive due process challenge I issued in the first post below. The lawless and accountable only to power bureaucrats never did either. All who interface with the Indiana law examiners or JLAP be warned.

  3. Hi there I really need help with getting my old divorce case back into court - I am still paying support on a 24 year old who has not been in school since age 16 - now living independent. My visitation with my 14 year old has never been modified; however, when convenient for her I can have him... I am paying past balance from over due support, yet earn several thousand dollars less. I would contact my original attorney but he basically molest me multiple times in Indy when I would visit.. Todd Woodmansee - I had just came out and had know idea what to do... I have heard he no longer practices. Please help1

  4. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  5. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

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