ILNews

COA affirms jail phone commissions

Jennifer Nelson
January 1, 2008
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After years of litigation, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled today that the Marion County Sheriff and the Indiana Department of Administration were allowed to enter into contracts with a phone company that provided commissions to the sheriff and IDOA on phone calls made from the jail and prison facilities.

In Chanelle Linet Alexander, et al. v. The Marion County Sheriff and the Commissioner of the Indiana Department of Administration, No. 49A02-0708-CV-716, the plaintiffs are a class of people who have been charged or paid for collect phone calls from inmates at the Marion County Jail and those incarcerated at Indiana Department of Correction facilities.

The suit was first filed in 2000, dismissed by the trial court for lack of subject jurisdiction, and appealed to the Court of Appeals. In Alexander I, the Court of Appeals remanded the case to the trial court to determine whether the sheriff and commissioner of IDOA were allowed to enter into contracts with Ameritech and AT&T that provided commissions and other compensation paid by the phone company to the sheriff and state, and if the rates charged for collect calls in the jail and DOC facilities were reasonable.

On remand, the trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the sheriff and IDOA, leading to the second appeal to the Court of Appeals by the plaintiffs.

In the instant case, the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court's grant of summary judgment. After examining Indiana statute, the appellate court found the defendants didn't violate any of the prohibition against excessive license fees, unreasonable user fees, or combinations in restraint of trade.

"Finding no statutory constraints on the Sheriff's or the State's authority to enter into contracts that call for the service providers to pay commissions to the Sheriff and the State in accordance with their respective contracts, and in light of the General Assembly's recognition of the Sheriff's and the State's authority to accept commissions from telephone service providers, we conclude that the trial court properly decided the threshold issue, i.e., the Sheriff and the State had the authority to enter into contracts which provided that they would receive commissions from providers of telephone services to their respective facilities," wrote Judge Ezra Friedlander.

The Court of Appeals also found that the defendants met their initial burden of proof showing the rates charged to inmates in the jail or DOC facilities were reasonable as they were no more than rates charged to the public for a similar service. The plaintiffs failed to meet their burden of establishing there is a genuine issue of fact regarding the reasonableness of the rates charged by the phone companies, he wrote.
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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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