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Appeals court affirms sending employee appeal back to agency

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The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed the grant of a fired Department of Correction employee’s petition for judicial review, finding that it was clear on the record that an administrative agency’s action was without evidentiary foundation. The appellate court noted the difficulty the judge had in conducting the judicial review due to deficiencies in recording testimony.

George Finney, who was a teacher at the Westville Correctional Facility, was fired after becoming belligerent and verbally abusive toward Westville officials after he was made to put his cell phone in his car before going into the facility. The Indiana State Employees’ Appeal Commission and an administrative law judge found that Westville proved it had cause to fire Finney. The full commission affirmed the ALJ’s determination, so Finney sought judicial review in Marion Superior Court.

There were numerous technical issues during the ALJ’s hearing, so most of the witnesses’ testimony wasn’t recorded and often recordings were inaudible, static, or blank. Only Finney’s and one other person’s testimony was intelligible.

Marion Superior Judge David Dreyer granted Finney’s petition, set aside the agency action and remanded to the agency for further proceedings.

The COA affirmed, finding Westville didn’t show that the reviewing court committed reversible error. It’s clear from the record that the agency’s action was without evidentiary foundation, let alone substantial evidence as required by Indiana Code 4-21.5-5-14(d)(5), wrote Senior Judge Patrick Sullivan in Westville Correctional Facility, et al. v. George Finney, No. 49A05-1103-PL-92.

“Without question Judge Dreyer’s task in conducting his judicial review was made difficult, if not virtually impossible, by the woeful deficiencies in the tape recordings of the testimony of various witnesses so that the attempts to transcribe the proceedings from those tapes were unavailing,” he wrote. “Suffice it to say that our extensive compilation of what appears on the purported record of the proceedings before the administrative agency reflects an intolerable failure to preserve the evidence or to make sure that the recording equipment was adequate to the task at hand. The posture of the case at its various levels, including this level, cries out for remedial action with respect to SEAC’s method of preserving testimonial evidence.”

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  1. Paul Ogden doing a fine job of remembering his peer Gary Welsh with the post below and a call for an Indy gettogether to celebrate Gary .... http://www.ogdenonpolitics.com/2016/05/indiana-loses-citizen-journalist-giant.html Castaways of Indiana, unite!

  2. It's unfortunate that someone has attempted to hijack the comments to promote his own business. This is not an article discussing the means of preserving the record; no matter how it's accomplished, ethics and impartiality are paramount concerns. When a party to litigation contracts directly with a reporting firm, it creates, at the very least, the appearance of a conflict of interest. Court reporters, attorneys and judges are officers of the court and must abide by court rules as well as state and federal laws. Parties to litigation have no such ethical responsibilities. Would we accept insurance companies contracting with judges? This practice effectively shifts costs to the party who can least afford it while reducing costs for the party with the most resources. The success of our justice system depends on equal access for all, not just for those who have the deepest pockets.

  3. As a licensed court reporter in California, I have to say that I'm sure that at some point we will be replaced by speech recognition. However, from what I've seen of it so far, it's a lot farther away than three years. It doesn't sound like Mr. Hubbard has ever sat in a courtroom or a deposition room where testimony is being given. Not all procedures are the same, and often they become quite heated with the ends of question and beginning of answers overlapping. The human mind can discern the words to a certain extent in those cases, but I doubt very much that a computer can yet. There is also the issue of very heavy accents and mumbling. People speak very fast nowadays, and in order to do that, they generally slur everything together, they drop or swallow words like "the" and "and." Voice recognition might be able to produce some form of a transcript, but I'd be very surprised if it produces an accurate or verbatim transcript, as is required in the legal world.

  4. Really enjoyed the profile. Congratulations to Craig on living the dream, and kudos to the pros who got involved to help him realize the vision.

  5. Why in the world would someone need a person to correct a transcript when a realtime court reporter could provide them with a transcript (rough draft) immediately?

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