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Justices rule on judicial mandate case

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In its first case since the state amended its rules last year on how judicial mandates are handled, the Indiana Supreme Court has today issued a decision about a St. Joseph Superior judge’s mandate for the county to pay for multiple items he considered necessary for running the local juvenile justice system.

Justices issued a decision today in the case of In The Matter of Mandate of Funds; St. Joseph County Commissioners And St. Joseph County Council v. The Hon. Peter J. Nemeth and the St. Joseph Probate Court, No. 71S00-0912-MF-569. Justice Frank Sullivan authored the 25-page decision, which had agreement from all his colleagues but included a brief dissent from Justices Brent Dickson and Theodore Boehm on one aspect.

Overall, neither St. Joseph Superior Judge Peter Nemeth nor the county commissioners and council emerged completely victorious as the high court delved into a multitude of complex problems and issued decisions on each aspect involving land use, renovations, and staff salaries.

Last year, a special judge ruled in favor Judge Nemeth who had issued three judicial mandates directing county officials to transfer money for pay raises and improvements for the juvenile justice center.

While this case and related mandates have played out during the past few years, this case was the first to fall under Indiana Trial Rule 60.5 that the court revised in February 2009. The mandates from Judge Nemeth followed a September 2007 ruling from the Supreme Court, which held that trial judges must work with county officials and share the decision-making of how court money is spent.

The justices reversed the special judge’s dismissal of the first mandate involving land use and possible construction of a new juvenile facility, remanding it to trial on the grounds that it shouldn’t have been dismissed. Justices both affirmed and reversed in part on Mandate 2, involving various renovations and county funds needed for those projects. The justices determined that a day reporting program expansion, juvenile-transporting vans, a washing machine to clean minors’ clothing, and carpet cleaning are all court-related expenses and should be paid for. However, the justices didn’t agree that expense for a new courtroom or needed chairs could be established by the evidence on record.

On the mandated salary hikes of $60,208 for eight employees, the justices affirmed the special judge’s finding that a bookkeeper position’s increase could be mandated but reversed the ruling that had approved raises for the other seven employees.

“This record does not show a clear and present danger of impairment of the court or court-related functions with regard to the remaining seven positions,” Justice Sullivan wrote.

With that, the Supreme Court also determined that the evidence didn’t show that the raises could be paid for with the local probation fee because it didn’t clearly fund new probation services or increases.

Additionally, the justices also determined that the appellate attorney fees in this case weren’t unreasonable and the commissioners failed to argue otherwise. Each side must bear its own appellate costs, the justices ruled.

Though Justices Dickson and Boehm agreed with most of the aspects in the case, they joined in a dissent that involved the aspect about whether the land use issue should be remanded for trial. They believed the special judge was correct to dismiss that mandate.
 

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