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Financial picture worsens for Marion County courts

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shortfall-factbox.jpgIndianapolis’ court system is used to making do with less, chipping away so far this year at a deficit of more than $2.6 million. Next year, money is expected to be substantially tighter.

“Ballpark … we’re looking at about $4.6 million in terms of shortfall” in the 2015 budget, said Sue Patterson, director of finance for Marion Superior Courts.

Some of the factors that will impact court funding in Marion County next year are likely to be felt in court systems around the state. An additional payroll period falls next year, health care costs are projected to rise, and probation officers are scheduled to receive a 2.2 percent salary increase.

Patterson and Marion Superior judges have been outspoken about needs they say that aren’t being met. The county’s probation department, for instance, addressed being shortchanged about $700,000 this year by simply not filling a couple dozen open positions in the department staff of roughly 200.

The courts also routinely deal with persistent shortfalls to support guardians ad litem appointed to represent juveniles in child in need of services cases.

“We’re seeing an increase in CHINS cases and an increase in criminal filings,” said Marion Superior Judge Heather Welch. At the same time, “Revenues in general are decreasing.”
 

welch-heather-2014mug Welch

Welch chairs the Marion Superior budget committee formed last year as the courts sought to find ways to save money and make their case amid chronic underfunding from state and local sources. The panel consists of eight judges and Patterson to ensure input from those with experience across all areas of court operations.

“One of the most important reasons we (formed the committee) is to develop a process that identifies the high priorities to be funded,” Welch said. “That’s our responsibility to taxpayers as elected officials.”

The courts received some good news June 23 from the City-County Council of Indianapolis and Marion County, which appropriated $900,000 to close the funding gap for guardians ad litem. But the money is only projected to last until September, when the courts will likely have to return to seek another appropriation.

Patterson had warned judges during prior meetings of the Marion Superior Executive Committee that budgeted funding for guardians ad litem would be exhausted in the summer without some relief.

“This funding crisis has been around for a while and they have been spending down their reserves,” said Democratic City-County Councilman Joe Simpson, who sits on the Public Safety and Criminal Justice Committee. “Now they’re at the point where they won’t have any reserves.”

Simpson said the county needs to find a dedicated source of funding to support a worthy program.

Republican City-County Councilwoman Marilyn Pfisterer co-sponsored the increase for guardians ad litem. A former court-appointed special advocate, she said “there needs to be a stable source of funding and something that the system can depend on year to year.

“It has been a chronic situation that the guardian ad litem (program) does have a shortfall just about every year that I can remember,” Pfisterer said.

Guardian ad litem boost?

The cost of paying for guardians ad litem in CHINS cases is supposed to be shared between the state and county, but counties complain they’re picking up a greater share of the cost.

Leslie Dunn, director of the Indiana Office of Guardian Ad Litem/Court Appointed Special Advocates, said the office is performing a statewide needs assessment with the intent to go to the Legislature next year and seek an increase in the roughly $2.9 million in state funding budgeted annually for GALs.

“We want to make sure we’re not asking for too much or asking for too little,” Dunn said.

Marion County typically receives about 20 to 25 percent of the state funding for services, proportional to the number of children served. But Patterson said the state’s share only covers about 16 percent of the total cost to serve children in abuse and neglect cases, leaving the county to pick up the remainder.

Counties have little choice after the Court of Appeals’ 2009 ruling, In the Matters of N.S. & J.M. v. T.S. and S.B., and C.L. and B.M., 908 N.E. 2d 1176. There, the court concluded that under state law, “It is clear that the burden of paying for services rendered by GALs or CASAs should be attributed to and paid for by the county.”

But I.C. 33-24-6-4 spells out a funding role for the Legislature if it so chooses, along with a local match from counties receiving the funding.

While the Court of Appeals decision put the onus for funding on counties, it also established the right of every child to representation in a CHINS case, said Cindy Booth, executive director of Child Advocates Inc., which provides GAL/CASA services in Marion County courts.

“Even though we use volunteers, we have to have staff to manage the volunteers, recruit them, provide office space and so on,” Booth said. “If there is such a gap, the county must fund.”

The average cost per GAL case is about $628, Booth said, and the state hasn’t increased funding since 2007. That’s resulted in rising costs for Marion County.

While court officials must return to the City-County Council periodically for additional sums to make sure children in abuse and neglect cases have a voice in court, Booth said the money has always been approved. “For some reason the controller for the county has not appropriated enough money from the beginning,” she said, even though costs could likely be estimated to within about $50,000.

Still, she said, “Marion County has been very responsive and very responsible to make sure every child has an advocate in every case.”

But some counties have significant waiting lists, Dunn said – Madison, St. Joseph and Vanderburgh among the largest. That’s why she’s asking program directors around the state who operate on shoestring budgets to assess their needs to make the case for more state funding. That would alleviate the pressure on counties feeling the strain while making sure children are represented.

“We are looking at, right now, what would it take to serve all the children across the state,” Dunn said.•

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  • Ask
    Ask Spicoli over at SmackedForum. He should know the situation really well. Then when you see what he has to say about citizens of Indiana you might think twice about who you elect in the Superior Courts.

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  1. I have been on this program while on parole from 2011-2013. No person should be forced mentally to share private details of their personal life with total strangers. Also giving permission for a mental therapist to report to your parole agent that your not participating in group therapy because you don't have the financial mean to be in the group therapy. I was personally singled out and sent back three times for not having money and also sent back within the six month when you aren't to be sent according to state law. I will work to het this INSOMM's removed from this state. I also had twelve or thirteen parole agents with a fifteen month period. Thanks for your time.

  2. Our nation produces very few jurists of the caliber of Justice DOUGLAS and his peers these days. Here is that great civil libertarian, who recognized government as both a blessing and, when corrupted by ideological interests, a curse: "Once the investigator has only the conscience of government as a guide, the conscience can become ‘ravenous,’ as Cromwell, bent on destroying Thomas More, said in Bolt, A Man For All Seasons (1960), p. 120. The First Amendment mirrors many episodes where men, harried and harassed by government, sought refuge in their conscience, as these lines of Thomas More show: ‘MORE: And when we stand before God, and you are sent to Paradise for doing according to your conscience, *575 and I am damned for not doing according to mine, will you come with me, for fellowship? ‘CRANMER: So those of us whose names are there are damned, Sir Thomas? ‘MORE: I don't know, Your Grace. I have no window to look into another man's conscience. I condemn no one. ‘CRANMER: Then the matter is capable of question? ‘MORE: Certainly. ‘CRANMER: But that you owe obedience to your King is not capable of question. So weigh a doubt against a certainty—and sign. ‘MORE: Some men think the Earth is round, others think it flat; it is a matter capable of question. But if it is flat, will the King's command make it round? And if it is round, will the King's command flatten it? No, I will not sign.’ Id., pp. 132—133. DOUGLAS THEN WROTE: Where government is the Big Brother,11 privacy gives way to surveillance. **909 But our commitment is otherwise. *576 By the First Amendment we have staked our security on freedom to promote a multiplicity of ideas, to associate at will with kindred spirits, and to defy governmental intrusion into these precincts" Gibson v. Florida Legislative Investigation Comm., 372 U.S. 539, 574-76, 83 S. Ct. 889, 908-09, 9 L. Ed. 2d 929 (1963) Mr. Justice DOUGLAS, concurring. I write: Happy Memorial Day to all -- God please bless our fallen who lived and died to preserve constitutional governance in our wonderful series of Republics. And God open the eyes of those government officials who denounce the constitutions of these Republics by arbitrary actions arising out capricious motives.

  3. From back in the day before secularism got a stranglehold on Hoosier jurists comes this great excerpt via Indiana federal court judge Allan Sharp, dedicated to those many Indiana government attorneys (with whom I have dealt) who count the law as a mere tool, an optional tool that is not to be used when political correctness compels a more acceptable result than merely following the path that the law directs: ALLEN SHARP, District Judge. I. In a scene following a visit by Henry VIII to the home of Sir Thomas More, playwriter Robert Bolt puts the following words into the mouths of his characters: Margaret: Father, that man's bad. MORE: There is no law against that. ROPER: There is! God's law! MORE: Then God can arrest him. ROPER: Sophistication upon sophistication! MORE: No, sheer simplicity. The law, Roper, the law. I know what's legal not what's right. And I'll stick to what's legal. ROPER: Then you set man's law above God's! MORE: No, far below; but let me draw your attention to a fact I'm not God. The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I can't navigate. I'm no voyager. But in the thickets of law, oh, there I'm a forester. I doubt if there's a man alive who could follow me there, thank God... ALICE: (Exasperated, pointing after Rich) While you talk, he's gone! MORE: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law! ROPER: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law! MORE: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? ROPER: I'd cut down every law in England to do that! MORE: (Roused and excited) Oh? (Advances on Roper) And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you where would you hide, Roper, the laws being flat? (He leaves *1257 him) This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast man's laws, not God's and if you cut them down and you're just the man to do it d'you really think you would stand upright in the winds that would blow then? (Quietly) Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake. ROPER: I have long suspected this; this is the golden calf; the law's your god. MORE: (Wearily) Oh, Roper, you're a fool, God's my god... (Rather bitterly) But I find him rather too (Very bitterly) subtle... I don't know where he is nor what he wants. ROPER: My God wants service, to the end and unremitting; nothing else! MORE: (Dryly) Are you sure that's God! He sounds like Moloch. But indeed it may be God And whoever hunts for me, Roper, God or Devil, will find me hiding in the thickets of the law! And I'll hide my daughter with me! Not hoist her up the mainmast of your seagoing principles! They put about too nimbly! (Exit More. They all look after him). Pgs. 65-67, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS A Play in Two Acts, Robert Bolt, Random House, New York, 1960. Linley E. Pearson, Atty. Gen. of Indiana, Indianapolis, for defendants. Childs v. Duckworth, 509 F. Supp. 1254, 1256 (N.D. Ind. 1981) aff'd, 705 F.2d 915 (7th Cir. 1983)

  4. "Meanwhile small- and mid-size firms are getting squeezed and likely will not survive unless they become a boutique firm." I've been a business attorney in small, and now mid-size firm for over 30 years, and for over 30 years legal consultants have been preaching this exact same mantra of impending doom for small and mid-sized firms -- verbatim. This claim apparently helps them gin up merger opportunities from smaller firms who become convinced that they need to become larger overnight. The claim that large corporations are interested in cost-saving and efficiency has likewise been preached for decades, and is likewise bunk. If large corporations had any real interest in saving money they wouldn't use large law firms whose rates are substantially higher than those of high-quality mid-sized firms.

  5. The family is the foundation of all human government. That is the Grand Design. Modern governments throw off this Design and make bureaucratic war against the family, as does Hollywood and cultural elitists such as third wave feminists. Since WWII we have been on a ship of fools that way, with both the elite and government and their social engineering hacks relentlessly attacking the very foundation of social order. And their success? See it in the streets of Fergusson, on the food stamp doles (mostly broken families)and in the above article. Reject the Grand Design for true social function, enter the Glorious State to manage social dysfunction. Our Brave New World will be a prison camp, and we will welcome it as the only way to manage given the anarchy without it.

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