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Preserving the past

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In the Pike County courthouse, the staff commonly refers to the basement as the dungeon.

It is not a place many like to venture, with its stone walls, concrete floors and bare bulbs hanging from the ceiling, but the space has proven to be a handy repository for court filings and county records. Decade after decade, boxes of papers were carted down to the basement and left, rarely sorted through and cleaned out.

Not surprising, the basement became cramped with boxes, so county officials called the Division of State Court Administration to ask for help.

ICPR-16-1col.jpg Conservation technician for the Indiana State Archives Elizabeth Hague unbinds a book of Indiana Senate bills from the late 1800s (IL Photo/Eric Learned)

“We just wanted the public to be able to view and have access to records they didn’t know existed, and we also wanted to clean out the courthouse because we didn’t have room,” said Amy Hook, Pike County deputy clerk.

Tucked away in boxes and cabinets in county courthouses across the state is Indiana’s history. These original records trace births, marriages and deaths, property ownership, military service, and disputes that landed in court.

Divisions within the Commission on Public Records, like the state archives and the county records division, along with the Indiana Supreme Court’s Division of State Court Administration work together

to identify and preserve the important records. These efforts can be as mundane as going through boxes in a courthouse basement or as painstaking as repairing a tear in a 100-year-old map with Japanese mending tissue and special glue.

Included in Indiana Court Administrative Rules is an entire section detailing the schedule for retaining judicial records. The questions of which documents are to be kept permanently, which documents are retained at the county and which get transferred to the state are addressed in the retention schedule.

However, county officials may hesitate at the thought of tossing an old document or record book into the trash. And the result of not knowing what to do with all those papers, Hook said, is a flood of documents and little knowledge of what’s there.

Saving it for the next 100 years

Tom Jones, records manager at the Division of State Court Administration, fields the calls from the county clerks and organizes the on-site visits to help local communities determine what to keep, how to keep it and what to send to the state archives or local historical society.

ICPR-1-1col.jpg Court files, judgment books and dockets from state and county courts are among the holdings in the Indiana State Archives. Many of the books and documents are handwritten in cursive script (IL Photo/Eric Learned)

During 2013, Jones made 67 visits to 31 Indiana counties. He has ventured down into basements, climbed up into attics and opened boxes and drawers to see what is inside.

Some requests for help come at a time of crisis when a county courthouse has caught fire or endured a flood. Jones and his colleagues will arrive soon after the disaster and help salvage what they can.

A fair amount of the materials Jones has reviewed has been generated by the local courts. Civil and criminal case files, Jones said, can tell the story of a specific period of time. He has seen early filings that were dominated by injuries from trains give way to auto accidents, underscoring the eclipse of the once mighty railroad by the horseless carriage.

“You definitely can see the legal history reflecting the general history of those times,” Jones said.

Recently, at the Indiana State Archives, Jim Corridan, state archivist, set an oblong box on the table and flipped the lid. Inside was a stack of Indiana Supreme Court case files from the 1800s. The grayish-brown papers had been tri-folded into tight bundles and the top edges were smeared with black dust, remnants from the former coal-heating system in the Statehouse.

Coupled with sorting and identifying historical documents, the state archives and state court administration preserve the records so they can be accessed not only today but also in the next century.

The project to preserve the Supreme Court’s case files was started under retired Chief Justice Randall Shepard and continued by Chief Justice Brent Dickson. An annual appropriation from the Supreme Court of $8,500 funds the preservation work.

To date, the state archives office has been able to refurbish and catalogue more than 30,000 filings from 1817 into the 1880s. A “few thousand” more Bankers boxes of case files, dating up to 1913, are on hand, and the archives is awaiting another 50 years worth of files to be transferred from the Supreme Court.

More than having a historical and research value, these files are caselaw, pointed out Corridan, who is also the director of the Indiana Commission on Public Records. They are precedent and still could be cited in opinions from the court in modern times.

The process to conserve the case files begins with a sponge to wipe off the dust and dirt. Then the papers are unfolded, often for the first time in more than a century, and placed under a brick to flatten them. In the conservation lab, experts will coax deteriorated pages apart and mend tears in the paper.

County books recording the local court judgments and orders as well as the docket are also housed at the state archives, kept on high shelves in the “stacks room” which has carefully controlled temperature and humidity. Some of those books can be as long as 2 feet and weigh as much as 30 pounds. Turning back the beautiful ornate cover will often reveal artfully flowing cursive handwriting.

Finding buried treasures

ICPR-7-15col.jpg The Indiana Supreme Court case files from the 1800s were trifolded and bound with ribbon. (IL Photo/Eric Learned)

The very paper used for the files, records and order books can slow the progress of Jones and his colleagues as they comb through documents in county courthouses. Especially with high quality and very expensive paper, like that from the mid-1800s, clerks were inspired to use every inch of available writing space, which means the state workers have to look beyond the cover and first pages when examining a government artifact. What may appear to contain just marriage licenses, for example, could also hold other records.

Going into the far reaches of the courthouses, Jones has discovered the remains of rodents and pigeons. But sometimes the hunts have yielded unexpected treasures.

In the Pike County courthouse’s basement, the staff found an enlistment book from the Civil War, a registry of widows and orphans, and the jail record from the 1800s which lists inmate crimes such as stealing a horse, pregnancy and tramp.

At the state archives, the Supreme Court files typically contain the transcript and briefs from the case as well as the order. However, some files have harbored a few cities’ original plat maps and one included the drawings from the 1870s of the courthouse in Marion County.

Perhaps most interesting has been the discovery of cases that, as Corridan described, have been lost to history. Among those forgotten court disputes are those dating into the 1820s and 1830s that concerned slaves and their Indiana owners.

“We’ll find some really intriguing things in the file that no one knows about,” the archivist said.

Shortly after he was elected clerk of the Owen Circuit Court three years ago, Jeff Brothers was shown the basement of the Owen County courthouse. There sat boxes and boxes of records and government papers likely dating from the inception of the county.

Upstairs the courthouse would soon begin making room for another Circuit judge who would produce more documents that would have to be stored somewhere.

Local officials already had been easing the overload by moving some of the documents to the local armory, and Brothers was devoting what time he could – even evenings and weekends – to sorting through the cardboard containers.

Ultimately, Brothers wants to retrieve some of what has been housed off-site back to the courthouse, but he does not want to do that by loading up the dumpster. Even when a plumbing repair flooded the basement, he did not throw things away but took batches of records to the armory and laid them out on the floor to dry.

In about a week, Brothers will get some help in his efforts to catalogue and preserve – Jones will be visiting.

“I believe in history,” Brothers said, explaining his drive to preserve the past. “History is an amazing thing to me. By doing away with something, you’re taking that (history) away from future generations.”•

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Indiana Supreme Court case records online

The Indiana State Archives is creating a database of case files from the Indiana Supreme Court. Since the project started about 10 years ago, the archives office has entered more than 30,000 documents, dating from 1817 to 1882, into the database. Plans call for the work to continue until every case file has been catalogued.
The online database provides information on the county and court where the case originated, date of the Supreme Court hearing, parties involved and the disposition.

The database is available at http://incite.in.gov/dataentryapp/public.aspx


 

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  1. This guy sounds like the classic molester/manipulator.

  2. Louis D. Brandeis was born in 1856. At 9 years of age it would have been 1865. The Brandeis family did not own slaves. My source Louis D. Brandeis: A Life, by Melvin L. Urofsky.

  3. My name is Matthew Lucas Major, I recently went through a jury trial in Bloomington , In. It was the week of Feb 19-21. Although I have been incarcerated since August 5, 2014. The reason I 'am writing to you sir is on the 21 of February the jury came in with a very excessive and wrongful verdict of guilty on 6 child molesting charges against my daughter who was 9 at the time I was accused. I also had 2 other Felonies one of Intimidation and 1 of Sexual Vicarious Gratification. Judge Marc Kellam on the second day of trial gave me a not guilty on those 2 felonies. The jury was sent out during that time and when brought back Judge Kellam told them to not concern themselves with the 2 Felonies that he ruled on them. They were told to not let evidence they had already heard influence there verdicts. I never in my life touched any child sexually and definitely not with my own daughter. When I was arrested Detective Shawn Karr told me I would be convicted guilty just on my daughters word even without evidence. That's just what happened. my public defender did me so wrong he never once proved to the court and jury all the lies the child told, and Jeremy Noel my public defender could of proven the lies easily. The stories in Serenity's depositions and Forensic interview changed and were not consistent as Prosecutor Darcie Fawcett claimed they were. Yet my attorney never mentioned that. The facts that the child accused me of full penetration in her vagina and rectum was proven lies. Doctor Roberta Hibbard of Riley hospital in Indianapolis confirmed Serenity's hymen intact, no scars, no tearing, no signs of rape to her. Yet my attorney didn't use that knowledge . the DNA was all in my favor. I tell you I will spend my entire life in prison going through rape and beatings etc. even Judge Kellam abused his authority by telling the jurors to listen and believe what the prosecutors side in evidence like my daughters testimony. In one interview with the detectives my daughter got flustered with her mom and said on camera " I'm saying what you told me to mom"!! Yet Mr. Noel said nor did anything to even resemble a defense attorney. Judge Kellam allowed edited version of a taped conversation between the child and her mother. Also Judge Kellam allowed the Prosecutor too bring in to my case a knife found under my seat, the knife wasn't part of my case. She was allowed by my attorney and the judge to put a huge picture of it on the screen and huge picture of my naked privates in a full courtroom and open court. Ms. Fawcett says to jury see how easy Mr. Major could reach the knife and cut his Childs throat. Even though I had no weapons charge against these cases. This gave the jurors prejudice thought against me thinking I threatened her with that knife and how scared she would of been knowing i could get it and kill her. On my sentencing court March 19, 2014 my public defender told Judge Kellam he wish to resign from being my attorney and wished for the court to give me outside council to file a error to trial or appeal. We were denied. Now after openly knowing my public defender don't want to represent me he has to. Well when as parents we make our kids clean a room when they really don't wish to, well the child will but don't mean she will do a good job, that's where I'm at with Mr. Noel. please dont ignore mine and my families pleas for your help . we have all the legal proof you could need to prove Im innocent. Please dont make my spend years in prison innocent when you can fix this wrong. Im not saying Im a perfect man or that I was a perfect dad to my 2 children none of us are. Ive made some bad choices in life and I paid for them. But I didnt ever touch or rape my daughter . I love my children with all my heart. And now through needing attention and a ex-wife who told my granny several times she wish she could put me in prison to get me out of their lives. Well my ex finally accomplished her goal. Sad part is she is destroying our daughter with all this horrific lies and things she taught my daughter to say. My daughter will need therapist to ever hope for a chance of a normal life after what she had done to her by her mom and their side of the family. My daughter told everyone even on stand she had a dream months before i supposedly molested her in this dream I was molesting her and when I finally did it matched her dream perfectly. She admitted to watching movies about little girls being molested and watching U-Tube videos about child molesting all before it happened supposedly to her. Doesn't that sound very unusual that a non molested 9 yr old would need to know so much about being molested? The only reason I could think a 9 year old would need so much information is to be prepared to know what to say and be able to say how it felt what took place etc.. So when questioned by authorities she would be prepared. And there again sir if a parent is pre grooming a 9 year old child she would need intimate details . Like telling her daughter about a couple moles on my private area. The child admitted to sneaking my cell and looking many many times at nudes of me and my girlfriend even one where my penis was entering my girlfriends vagina. In that picture my moles are obvious. Yet when prosecutor showed everyone in court my privates and pictures of the moles she said the only way the child would know about them is if she saw them for herself. My attorney once again said nothing about the pictures my child saw. Or could a ex-wife be able to describe my moles to help her case against getting rid of me? I beg you help me. This is my very existence. Ive lost everything , a good job, a wonderful girlfriend, my freedom, but worse thing Ive lost is my children. They were my reason to get up every morning and strive to be better. The wonderful bond I had with my Serenity is gone. After this I would be afraid to even hug her for fear of what next can they do to me. I'm not afraid to tell you I sit here in this cell and try to hold back my tears. Everyone knows you cant show weakness in prison. My life has already been threatened here at Wabash Valley Prison. After only 3 days of arrival. I was tricked into signing a waiver now Im in G Block General Population with 6 child molesting felony charges. Mrs. Hart as a 18 year old I almost died hooked to machines in hospital almost 1 month and now I know that fear was childish compared to this . I cant help but put emotions in this, after all Mrs. Hart Im human and God help Me I never been more afraid in my life. I didnt hurt my little girl I didnt touch her sexually. As much as it shreds me and fills my mind what Im facing I worry more about my mom and granny because of their great love for me mam they are suffering so deeply. I aint done this things but my loved ones suffering right along beside me and If you take my case you will be in essence freeing them also. I sent momma this letter and asked her to email it to you. I'm scared I have been done so unjustly by our legal system and I need you to fix this and give me freedom. I ask you please don't just ignore my pleas. Here in America its nice to be able to trust our legal justice system, well they destroyed my and my loved ones trust in our justice system . And I'm trusting in You !!! My entire family is suffering this nightmare with me. My 77 year old granny had a stroke and isn't doing so well. My single mother that raised 3 kids alone is dying from Lupus and since my arrest has stayed so sick and weary. Our lives torn to peices by a government I was taught I could trust in. my momma has tried so many innocent project and wrongfully accused and cant get anywhere. please please help me. A quote from the late Nelson Mandela: To be free is not merely to cast off ones chains, But to live in a way that respects and enhances The Freedom Of Others. I have Faith in you and your clinic to cast my chains off and give me freedom I do deserve as a wrongfully accused Man, son, brother, father, friend. Matthew Major DOC# 246179 Cause # : 53c02-1308-FA-000779 God Bless you. Please contact me with your decision so I know you made a life changing decision for me , just please at least write me so I know you care enough about your citizens to respond to cries for your help. You can speak openly with my mother Charlotte Spain (828) 476-0406: 71 Lakeview Dr. Canton, NC 28716 Thank You Matthew Major I know yall get thousands of request and inmates claiming innocence, and each person who are innocent deserve to have organizations like yours willing to fight for them and I give yall so much Thanks and I thank God everyday yall are out there caring enough to help free the innocents. Since discovering firsthand how easily lives and families can be destroyed by Poor Defense attorneys not doing their job . And Prosecutors allowed to do as they please in court

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

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