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Court rules on ADR sanctions, Open Door Law

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Trial courts can sanction government entities through the state's Alternative Dispute Resolution Rules, but officials aren't necessarily acting in bad faith if they don't immediately approve mediated agreements to comply with the Indiana Open Door Law, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled today.

Issuing a decision today in Lake County Trust Co., et al. v. Advisory Plan Commission of Lake County, No. 37S03-0904-CV-192, the Supreme Court granted transfer and ruled on an issue last addressed by the intermediate appellate court in 1995 but that justices hadn't addressed before: whether a trial court could impose ADR rule sanctions against a governmental entity.

"Like other parties to litigation who may be involved in a mediation proceeding, governmental entities are equally obligated to comply with the applicable rules and thus should be equally subject to the sanctions authorized to encourage compliance," Justice Brent Dickson wrote for the unanimous court, noting the justices disapprove a contrary view expressed previously in State v. Carter, 658 N.E.2d 618 (Ind. Ct. App. 1995).

The Lake County Advisory Plan Commission had denied a primary plat approval request for the Deer Ridge South Subdivision in an unincorporated part of the county, and the developers sought judicial review of that decision. The trial court ordered mediation and that led to a written settlement, but at a public meeting the plan commission voted to hold off on a decision for 30 days. Developers filed a motion to enforce the agreement, and the plan commission then voted to reject it. That resulted in the trial court specifically ordering the plan commission to approve the plan and issue any necessary permits; officials complied. But the trial court later conducted a hearing and determined that the plan commission had acted in bad faith in failing to approve a settlement reached by its attorneys with full settlement authority, and ordered that mediation costs be paid to the developers. The Court of Appeals ultimately held that the plan commission was immune from any sanctions under the ADR rules, and that the commission didn't act in bad faith in not approving the plat promptly.

In its decision today, justices examined the 1995 ruling in Carter and compared it to other caselaw looking at how government entities are held liable for damages and how Indiana's mediation rules are designed to be a part of the court-sanctioned process applying to civil and domestic situations. It also determined that no exemption exists for the government entities.

The court also determined that the Indiana Open Door Law must be applied to any mediation agreement and that pre-mediation public meetings don't satisfy that statutory requirement as the developers insisted in this case.

"While we generally favor the amicable settlement of disputes and encourage the use of mediation to facilitate such agreements, these processes cannot substitute for legislatively mandated official and public assent to the resulting settlement agreements," Justice Dickson wrote. " Resort to mediation can be extremely beneficial to all parties, but, as observed by the Court of Appeals, it is wise practice 'to include language in a settlement agreement that the agreement is contingent upon compliance with the Open Door Law and that it must be approved at an open meeting.'"

Justices vacated the ruling from Jasper Circuit Judge John D. Potter, which had ordered the plan commission to reimburse a developer $1,578 in mediation costs.

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  1. From back in the day before secularism got a stranglehold on Hoosier jurists comes this great excerpt via Indiana federal court judge Allan Sharp, dedicated to those many Indiana government attorneys (with whom I have dealt) who count the law as a mere tool, an optional tool that is not to be used when political correctness compels a more acceptable result than merely following the path that the law directs: ALLEN SHARP, District Judge. I. In a scene following a visit by Henry VIII to the home of Sir Thomas More, playwriter Robert Bolt puts the following words into the mouths of his characters: Margaret: Father, that man's bad. MORE: There is no law against that. ROPER: There is! God's law! MORE: Then God can arrest him. ROPER: Sophistication upon sophistication! MORE: No, sheer simplicity. The law, Roper, the law. I know what's legal not what's right. And I'll stick to what's legal. ROPER: Then you set man's law above God's! MORE: No, far below; but let me draw your attention to a fact I'm not God. The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I can't navigate. I'm no voyager. But in the thickets of law, oh, there I'm a forester. I doubt if there's a man alive who could follow me there, thank God... ALICE: (Exasperated, pointing after Rich) While you talk, he's gone! MORE: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law! ROPER: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law! MORE: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? ROPER: I'd cut down every law in England to do that! MORE: (Roused and excited) Oh? (Advances on Roper) And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you where would you hide, Roper, the laws being flat? (He leaves *1257 him) This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast man's laws, not God's and if you cut them down and you're just the man to do it d'you really think you would stand upright in the winds that would blow then? (Quietly) Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake. ROPER: I have long suspected this; this is the golden calf; the law's your god. MORE: (Wearily) Oh, Roper, you're a fool, God's my god... (Rather bitterly) But I find him rather too (Very bitterly) subtle... I don't know where he is nor what he wants. ROPER: My God wants service, to the end and unremitting; nothing else! MORE: (Dryly) Are you sure that's God! He sounds like Moloch. But indeed it may be God And whoever hunts for me, Roper, God or Devil, will find me hiding in the thickets of the law! And I'll hide my daughter with me! Not hoist her up the mainmast of your seagoing principles! They put about too nimbly! (Exit More. They all look after him). Pgs. 65-67, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS A Play in Two Acts, Robert Bolt, Random House, New York, 1960. Linley E. Pearson, Atty. Gen. of Indiana, Indianapolis, for defendants. Childs v. Duckworth, 509 F. Supp. 1254, 1256 (N.D. Ind. 1981) aff'd, 705 F.2d 915 (7th Cir. 1983)

  2. "Meanwhile small- and mid-size firms are getting squeezed and likely will not survive unless they become a boutique firm." I've been a business attorney in small, and now mid-size firm for over 30 years, and for over 30 years legal consultants have been preaching this exact same mantra of impending doom for small and mid-sized firms -- verbatim. This claim apparently helps them gin up merger opportunities from smaller firms who become convinced that they need to become larger overnight. The claim that large corporations are interested in cost-saving and efficiency has likewise been preached for decades, and is likewise bunk. If large corporations had any real interest in saving money they wouldn't use large law firms whose rates are substantially higher than those of high-quality mid-sized firms.

  3. The family is the foundation of all human government. That is the Grand Design. Modern governments throw off this Design and make bureaucratic war against the family, as does Hollywood and cultural elitists such as third wave feminists. Since WWII we have been on a ship of fools that way, with both the elite and government and their social engineering hacks relentlessly attacking the very foundation of social order. And their success? See it in the streets of Fergusson, on the food stamp doles (mostly broken families)and in the above article. Reject the Grand Design for true social function, enter the Glorious State to manage social dysfunction. Our Brave New World will be a prison camp, and we will welcome it as the only way to manage given the anarchy without it.

  4. When I hear 'Juvenile Lawyer' I think of an attorney helping a high school aged kid through the court system for a poor decision; like smashing mailboxes. Thank you for opening up my eyes to the bigger picture of the need for juvenile attorneys. It made me sad, but also fascinated, when it was explained, in the sixth paragraph, that parents making poor decisions (such as drug abuse) can cause situations where children need legal representation and aid from a lawyer.

  5. Some in the Hoosier legal elite consider this prayer recommended by the AG seditious, not to mention the Saint who pledged loyalty to God over King and went to the axe for so doing: "Thomas More, counselor of law and statesman of integrity, merry martyr and most human of saints: Pray that, for the glory of God and in the pursuit of His justice, I may be trustworthy with confidences, keen in study, accurate in analysis, correct in conclusion, able in argument, loyal to clients, honest with all, courteous to adversaries, ever attentive to conscience. Sit with me at my desk and listen with me to my clients' tales. Read with me in my library and stand always beside me so that today I shall not, to win a point, lose my soul. Pray that my family may find in me what yours found in you: friendship and courage, cheerfulness and charity, diligence in duties, counsel in adversity, patience in pain—their good servant, and God's first. Amen."

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