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Suit against traffic court sent back to state court

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A lawsuit against the Marion Superior traffic court over fees has been moved back to state court.

U.S. District Judge William T. Lawrence ordered to state court Toshiano Ishii, et al. v. Marion County Superior Court No. 13, et al., No. 1:09-CV-1509, a suit which claims Marion County Judge William E. Young violates residents' constitutional rights by imposing additional fees on those who unsuccessfully challenge their tickets and by closing proceedings to the public.

The plaintiffs filed the suit in Marion Superior Court No. 11 in December 2009. According to the suit, Toshiano Ishii appeared in traffic court to contest a ticket; he lost and was fined an additional $400. Matthew Stone was cited for improperly wearing a seatbelt. He wears it differently because of a pacemaker and chose not to challenge the ticket because of Judge Young's policy. Adam Lenkowsky asked to enter the courtroom as a member of the public and was denied entrance.

They claim when Judge Young took the bench in traffic court in 2009, he instituted a policy that defendants who come before his court and are found guilty would be fined up to an additional $500 and could even be assessed up to $10,000 plus court costs. The traffic courtroom is also open only to defendants and prevents parents of minors to be present during proceedings. The threat of these fines violates the federal and state constitutions, according to the suit.

The case was moved to U.S. District Court, Southern District of Indiana, Indianapolis Division in late December at the city's request.

But attorneys want the case back in state court, so they voluntarily dismissed their federal claims. In the order entered Thursday by Judge Lawrence, merely doing that does not divest the federal court of subject matter jurisdiction over the case. The District Court had jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. Section 1367, which provides for the exercise of supplemental jurisdiction over claims based upon state law that are closely related to the federal claims in a case.

However, there is a presumption that a District Court judge will relinquish jurisdiction over any supplemental claim to the state courts once federal claims are removed. There are exceptions to that general rule, but none of those apply in the instant case, the judge continued.

Judge Lawrence ordered the case back to Marion Superior Court and also denied plaintiffs' request that defendants be sanctioned for suggesting that federal court still had jurisdiction over the case.

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  2. Mr. Levin says that the BMV engaged in misconduct--that the BMV (or, rather, someone in the BMV) knew Indiana motorists were being overcharged fees but did nothing to correct the situation. Such misconduct, whether engaged in by one individual or by a group, is called theft (defined as knowingly or intentionally exerting unauthorized control over the property of another person with the intent to deprive the other person of the property's value or use). Theft is a crime in Indiana (as it still is in most of the civilized world). One wonders, then, why there have been no criminal prosecutions of BMV officials for this theft? Government misconduct doesn't occur in a vacuum. An individual who works for or oversees a government agency is responsible for the misconduct. In this instance, somebody (or somebodies) with the BMV, at some time, knew Indiana motorists were being overcharged. What's more, this person (or these people), even after having the error of their ways pointed out to them, did nothing to fix the problem. Instead, the overcharges continued. Thus, the taxpayers of Indiana are also on the hook for the millions of dollars in attorneys fees (for both sides; the BMV didn't see fit to avail itself of the services of a lawyer employed by the state government) that had to be spent in order to finally convince the BMV that stealing money from Indiana motorists was a bad thing. Given that the BMV official(s) responsible for this crime continued their misconduct, covered it up, and never did anything until the agency reached an agreeable settlement, it seems the statute of limitations for prosecuting these folks has not yet run. I hope our Attorney General is paying attention to this fiasco and is seriously considering prosecution. Indiana, the state that works . . . for thieves.

  3. I'm glad that attorney Carl Hayes, who represented the BMV in this case, is able to say that his client "is pleased to have resolved the issue". Everyone makes mistakes, even bureaucratic behemoths like Indiana's BMV. So to some extent we need to be forgiving of such mistakes. But when those mistakes are going to cost Indiana taxpayers millions of dollars to rectify (because neither plaintiff's counsel nor Mr. Hayes gave freely of their services, and the BMV, being a state-funded agency, relies on taxpayer dollars to pay these attorneys their fees), the agency doesn't have a right to feel "pleased to have resolved the issue". One is left wondering why the BMV feels so pleased with this resolution? The magnitude of the agency's overcharges might suggest to some that, perhaps, these errors were more than mere oversight. Could this be why the agency is so "pleased" with this resolution? Will Indiana motorists ever be assured that the culture of incompetence (if not worse) that the BMV seems to have fostered is no longer the status quo? Or will even more "overcharges" and lawsuits result? It's fairly obvious who is really "pleased to have resolved the issue", and it's not Indiana's taxpayers who are on the hook for the legal fees generated in these cases.

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