ILNews

Appeal likely in license-plate fee suit

Michael W. Hoskins
January 1, 2008
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The Indiana Court of Appeals will likely be asked to consider whether the Hoosier license plates proclaiming "In God We Trust" violate the state constitution regarding the fees not attached for motorists.

Following a ruling released Thursday by Marion Superior Judge Gary Miller, the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana plans to appeal on behalf of a Fort Wayne man who sued over the plate a year ago.

At issue in Mark E. Studler v. Indiana BMV, No. 49D05-0704-PL-016603, was the $15 administrative fee that isn't charged for the plate but is charged for those designated as "specialty" plates. From the beginning, the ACLU of Indiana legal director Ken Falk said this suit was about equity and fairness, not about religion.

The suit alleged that the Bureau of Motor Vehicles gave preferential treatment to the 1.6 million motorists wanting the "In God We Trust" plates because they weren't charged the fee that's collected for many other plates. Studler argued there is no difference between this plate and his specialty environmental plate, for which he has to pay a fee.

But Judge Miller wrote the "In God We Trust" plate is a regular plate similar to the state's "standard" license plate and is not a specialty one, therefore not violating the Indiana Constitution.

Judge Miller determined that no possibility exists for donating to any group, and the BMV isn't required to coordinate design or production with any outside organization, as is the case with specialty plates. There is no special designation created by the new plate; it's all about the production costs, he wrote.

"The Indiana Code makes no such distinction," the judge wrote. "The classification created by the legislature has nothing do with expression. It has to do with drawing generally useful categories based on general assumptions about relative administrative burdens."

He added, "Courts are not to second-guess the Indiana General Assembly when it comes to calculations of this sort."

The judge granted the state's motion for summary judgment and denied the plaintiff's in his order dated April 10, but issued this week.

Falk plans to appeal, he told Indiana Lawyer today.
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  1. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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