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County not dismissed in fired court clerks suits

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Clark County lost in its efforts to be dismissed from suits filed by two fired Clark Circuit Court employees. Chief Judge David F. Hamilton in the U.S. District Court, Southern District of Indiana, ordered the county to file answers to the complaints no later than Sept. 6.

Former Clark Circuit Court employees Chanelle Vavasseur and Jeremy Snelling allege newly elected Judge Daniel Moore fired them Jan.1, 2009, from their jobs as clerks of the court based on their political affiliations. Judge Moore ran as a Democrat in the election, defeating Republican candidate and sitting Judge Abe Navarro. Vavasseur also claimed she was fired because she is African-American.

The plaintiffs each filed suit in May in state court; both cases were moved to District Court. They claim their First Amendment rights were violated and Vavasseur's equal protection rights were violated under the 14th Amendment.

Chief Judge Hamilton released the entry Monday on Clark County's motion to dismiss in Vavasseur and Snelling's cases in a combined entry, Chanelle M. Vavasseur and Jeremy Snelling v. State of Indiana, Clark County, Ind., Clark Circuit Court, and Daniel Moore, Nos. 4:09-CV-0072 and 4:09-CV-0073.

Clark County argued that because the plaintiffs were employees of the Circuit Court, which is an arm of the state, the county is not a proper defendant.

Despite both sides' arguments that the law is clearly on their respective sides that the District Court should order the other side to pay attorneys' fees for frivolous claims or frivolous motions to dismiss, Chief Judge Hamilton wrote Indiana law on the question isn't as transparent as either side claims.

The county relied on State ex rel. McClure v. Marion Superior Court, 158 N.E.2d 264 (Ind. 1959), in which the Indiana Supreme Court held the governor has the power to fill vacancies in the office of Circuit Court Clerk. The plaintiffs relied on Knoebel v. Clark County Superior Court No. 1, 901 N.E.2d 529 (Ind. App. 2009), which held both the court and the county were proper defendants when a court employee who was paid by the county sued for back pay under state law.

Knoebel lends support to Vavasseur and Snelling's view, even if the principal targets of the lawsuits are the decisions by the circuit judge to fire both plaintiffs, wrote the chief judge. But Knoebel might be distinguished from the instant case because that plaintiff Susan Knoebel was a probation officer rather than a clerk; she relied only on state law rather than federal law, and she challenged a decision only about pay levels rather than a termination.

"For now, with an undeveloped record on both the relevant facts and the law, the court denies both pending motions to dismiss filed by the county when the case was still in state court," wrote Chief Judge Hamilton.

The requests for attorney fees' on the question of the county's role as a defendant were also denied to all parties.

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  1. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  2. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  3. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

  4. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

  5. "No one is safe when the Legislature is in session."

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