ILNews

Suit against Vanderburgh County dismissed

Michael W. Hoskins
January 1, 2008
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A federal judge in Indianapolis has dismissed a suit against Vanderburgh County that claimed county officials were responsible for a 2005 triple murder-suicide by an inmate on work release.

On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Sarah Evans Barker issued a 13-page order dismissing the federal complaint Christine Sandage, et al. v. Board of Commissioners of Vanderburgh County, Indiana, et al. The suit stems from the deaths of Sheena Sandage-Shofner, Alfonzo Small, and Tara Jenkins, who were fatally shot almost three years ago by Travis Moore. He was serving a four-year sentence for a robbery conviction and was on work release, which allowed him to leave the correctional center periodically under supervision.

A month before her death, Sandage-Shofner warned the county sheriff's department by telephone that Moore had been harassing her at times he was supposed to be at work. The county did not revoke Moore's work release privileges, and after the murders and his suicide, the families of Sandage-Shofner and Small sued the county for contributing to their deaths.

Filing a state and a federal suit in April 2007, the families sought unspecified damages on grounds that the defendants' failure to revoke Moore's work release "created a danger... that would not otherwise have existed."

Judge Barker disagreed, finding that the victims had no constitutional right to police protection from violent crimes in this case and, if they had, the defendants' failure to respond to complaints and remove Moore from work release did not result in a constitutional injury.

She relied on a recent 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in King v. East St. Louis School District 189, 496 F.3d 812 (7th Cir. 2007), which set out a three-part balancing test to prove whether a state-created danger existed. Plaintiffs fell short of complying with that standard, the judge wrote, and granted a motion to dismiss the claims.

None of the parties disputed that the county was acting according to state law when they determined Moore could be put on work release, and Judge Barker declined to exercise jurisdiction on those claims.

Now, those same issues will play out in Vanderburgh Circuit Court on the negligence claims. The parties had held off on the trial court case while the federal suit was pending.
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  3. 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.

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