ILNews

BMV tosses personalized license plate policy

Michael W. Hoskins
January 1, 2008
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  A federal lawsuit involving the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles and how it handles personalized license plates may be settled in the next week, now that the state agency has thrown out the revised policy banning all religious or deity phrases.

BMV Commissioner Ron Stiver reversed a policy decision Nov. 25 that had taken effect Nov. 6 banning any requested personalized plate message carrying a religious or deity message. Now, an eight-person internal committee will review all requested messages the way the agency had operated for years.

Late last year, the agency had started reviewing about 230 internal policies and eventually decided to move away from the committee review. Instead, the agency would specifically ban anything that referred to drugs, alcohol, bodily functions or parts, political parties, violence, race, gender, religion, or a deity.

"From a legal perspective, we were concerned that if we accepted or approved anything perceived as pro-deity, we'd have to accept anything on the opposite end," BMV spokesman Dennis Rosebrough said. "If we rejected all references, we were on safe legal ground."

But that decision got a second look from the agency commissioner after scrutiny in the past month, resulting mostly from the Nov. 17 lawsuit filed by Elizabeth Ferris of Cambridge City. Ferris claimed her First Amendment rights to free speech were violated when the agency didn't allow her plate saying BE GODS, meaning "belong to God." Stiver allowed Ferris and three others to get plates a day after the suit was filed, and Rosebrough said the commissioner spent the next week more closely examining the policy through discussions with attorneys and public policy-makers here and outside Indiana.

"That new rule was well-intentioned and based on legitimate legal opinion, but at the end of the day he felt that we really ought to rely on common sense to guide us," Rosebrough said.

Alliance Defense Fund attorney Kevin Theriot, who isn't an attorney of record on this case but works on the suit with lead counsel Erik Stanley, said Nov. 26 that this move goes a long way to help resolve the case. Counsel from both sides have been discussing potential settlements, but an agreement hadn't been reached prior to the Thanksgiving holiday.

"We have not made any final dispositions in this case, but we applaud the actions of the BMV and think this will help get everyone to a point where we can find a resolution," he said.

Those seeking personalized plates had until Oct. 31 to submit requests to receive plates in the spring, so the full impact of this policy decision will be on those wanting personalized plates for 2010, Rosebrough said. The BMV receives about 12,000 requests a year, and Rosebrough said motorists whose requests are rejected always have an option to appeal the agency's decisions.

"There really needs to be this vetting process from keeping some very not nice stuff off backs of people's cars," he said. "But this is a subjective process and there're always gray areas. That's why there's an appeal process."

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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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