ILNews

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. 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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