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Indiana Court Decisions - June 11 to 24, 2014

IL Staff
July 2, 2014
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7th Circuit Court of Appeals

June 23

Criminal – Extortion/Conditions of Supervised Release

United States of America v. Walbert Keith Farmer

13-3373

Because two special conditions imposed on a man convicted of attempted extortion do not bear a reasonably direct relationship to his underlying crimes, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals vacated those conditions.

Walbert Keith Farmer attempted to extort money from Walter Allen, an employee at Horseshoe Casino in Elizabeth. Farmer learned that Allen had used a company credit card without authorization and threatened Allen over the phone to tell the casino about his actions unless Allen paid him off.

The police busted up Farmer’s scheme, and he pleaded guilty to two counts for attempting to extort Allen and using interstate communications in the execution of his plot. The presentence report prepared did not disclose to the parties any information about the conditions of supervised release that the probation service intended to recommend to the District Court.

Judge Tanya Walton Pratt imposed those special conditions, which included that Farmer submit to the search of his person, vehicle, office, residence and property at the request of his probation officer, even without a warrant or reasonable suspicion; and a ban on self-employment.

The 7th Circuit judges noted their concern that the parties weren’t privy to the conditions of the supervised release suggested by the probation officer prior to the hearing. The sentencing recommendation, which contained some of the conditions, was designated as confidential under a local rule. By keeping this information confidential, it does not allow a defendant to properly challenge the recommendation at the sentencing hearing.

“We recommend that sentencing judges follow the best practices outlined in Siegel when imposing conditions of supervised release, particularly the suggestion that judges ‘[r]equire the probation service to communicate its recommendations for conditions of supervised release to defense counsel at least two weeks before the sentencing hearing,’” Judge John Tinder wrote.

The judges were “at a loss” as to how the broad search and seizure authority is connected to Farmer’s current offense or criminal history. And they found that the judge’s explanation for imposing the ban on self-employment did not provide the necessary nexus between Farmer’s underlying crime of attempted extortion and the self-employment ban.

They vacated these two conditions of supervised release and remanded for further proceedings.

Indiana Supreme Court

June 19

Civil Plenary – Punitive Damage Restrictions/Treble Damages

Ralph Andrews v. Mor/Ryde International, Inc.

20S04-1406-PL-399

The Indiana Supreme Court unanimously held that treble damages under the Sales Representative Act are not subject to the Punitive Damages Act. The justices granted transfer to and reversed the trial court’s ruling which agreed with Mor/Ryde International Inc. that the punitive damages restrictions apply to an action pending against the company.

Ralph Andrews sued the company after Mor/Ryde terminated his contract with the company. Ralph worked as an independent commissioned sales rep for the company for 12 years and argued that it owed him unpaid commissions. He sought recovery under the Sales Representative Act, which allows for companies to be held liable for exemplary damages in an amount no more than three times the sum of the commissions owed to the sales rep. On interlocutory appeal, a split Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court. The justices reversed the trial court, citing Judge Michael Barnes’ dissent.

“We agree with Judge Barnes that Obremski’s distinction between common-law punitive damages and statutory exemplary damages is controlling here. While the Punitive Damages Act was enacted to drastically restrict recovery in light of perceived abuses at common law generally, the Sales Representative Act’s treble-damage provisions at issue here — like the similar Crime Victims Relief Act provisions in (Obremski v. Henderson, 497 N.E.2d 909, 911 (Ind. 1986)) — were enacted to increase recovery from what the common law would otherwise permit. We think it highly unlikely that the Legislature would expand a remedy with one hand (the Sales Representative Act or the Crime Victims Relief Act), while restricting it with the other (the Punitive Damages Act),” Justice Loretta Rush wrote.

She noted that the Legislature could have abolished Obremski’s distinction between common law and statutory punitive damages as part of major 1995 amendments to the Punitive Damages Act, but chose not to do so.

“… we find it instructive that an amendment that dramatically increased the reach of the Punitive Damages Act nevertheless did not include a change extending it to encompass statutory treble damages,” she wrote.

Indiana Court of Appeals

__________

June 11

Protective Order – Duration

In the Matter of the Petition for Temporary Protective Order: A.N. v. K.G.

49A04-1212-PO-649

Finding a 28-year extension of a protective order to be unreasonable, the Indiana Court of Appeals ordered the trial court to determine a “reasonable extension.”

The appellate court granted rehearing to address A.N.’s argument that while she had no objection to extending the protective order in place against her, she did not agree to the specific term imposed by the trial court.

K.G. had a protective order in place against A.N. who was not to directly or indirectly contact him or three other people. A trial judge found A.N. violated the protective order, and the Court of Appeals affirmed in January. The judge also decided to extend the protection order until November 2040.

The Civil Protection Order Act provides that the modification of an order for protection is effective for two years after the issue date unless another date is ordered by the court. But, the Act doesn’t provide any guidelines for reviewing a trial court’s discretionary relief that extends beyond the two-year term. The appeals court also pointed out it hasn’t had an opportunity yet to formulate appropriate standards.

“As an order for protection can impose significant restrictions on a respondent’s freedom of movement and other rights, the extension must be equally supported by a court’s conclusion that such additional time, in excess of the statutorily two-year approved extension, is necessary to protect the petitioner and to bring about a cessation of the violence or the threat of violence,” Judge Patricia Riley wrote.

“Absent findings in the present case, we find that the twenty-eight year extension of the protective order is unreasonable.”

The rest of the original opinion is affirmed.
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June 12

Domestic Relation – Custody/Marital Assets

Lesley Farley Pitcavage v. Joel Michael Pitcavage

29A02-1307-DR-597

Ruling on a matter of first impression, the Indiana Court of Appeals upheld a trial court’s decision to impose psychotherapy in a marital dissolution and custody order.

Hamilton Superior Judge Daniel J. Pfleging ordered Lesley Pitcavage to undergo psychotherapy in order to participate in parenting time with her young daughter.

The Pitcavages have one child from their short marriage and Lesley Pitcavage has two children from a previous relationship. Joel Pitcavage had concerns about how his wife and her daughter A.F. interacted – they argued and got into physical altercations at times, and the mother was often passive to A.F.’s violent outbursts. Both are victims of sexual assault and violence, with A.F.’s perpetrator being Lesley Pitcavage’s brother.

Out of work, Joel Pitcavage moved to the St. Louis area and told his wife he wanted to take their daughter with him. She filed for divorce in 2010, and they battled over custody of the girl. The court-appointed clinical psychologist recommended Joel Pitcavage receive primary physical and sole legal custody – which the court granted – and that Leslie Pitcavage participate in “intensive individual pyschodynamically oriented psychotherapy.”

“We recognize that parents have an interest in rearing their children without undue interference from the courts, but in any child-related matter—whether it be custody, visitation, or termination of parental rights—the best interests of the child must be the primary consideration,” Judge Patricia Riley wrote. “Court-ordered psychotherapy may not be appropriate in every case, but here, where the evidence supports the mandate, we find the Child’s emotional development outweighs Leslie’s opposition to psychotherapy. Because the parenting time condition is based upon the trial court’s endeavor to protect the child’s emotional well-being, we cannot say that it was an abuse of discretion for the trial court to order Leslie to attend psychotherapy.”

The judges also affirmed the rest of the divorce decree with the exception of the valuation of Leslie Pitcavage’s 401(k) account. They ordered the trial court to enter a value of $56,820.36, the amount of the account as of Jan. 1, 2010. The trial court had valued it at $10,424.99, the amount she contributed to the account during the marriage.

Criminal – Battery/Notice of Crime

Billy Young v. State of Indiana

49A02-1310-CR-868

Because the charging information did not give a defendant fair notice of the crime of which he was convicted, the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed his Class B felony attempted aggravated battery conviction.

Billy Young, Latoya Lee, Marquise Lee and an unidentified man went to the apartment of Ramon Gude two days after Latoya Lee got in a fight with Gude’s girlfriend, Tiara Robertson. Marquise and Ramon began fighting. The unidentified man shot Ramon much to the surprise of Young and Marquise Lee. Ramon died of his injuries and the three known assailants were charged with murder and conspiracy to commit murder.

After a two-day bench trial, the judge determined the proof was insufficient to support the charges, but that the state had proven beyond a reasonable doubt that Latoya Lee was going to arrange for a “beat down” of Ramon. The judge convicted each co-defendant of Class B felony attempted aggravated battery.

At first blush, it could seem that attempted aggravated battery could be an inherently lesser included offense of murder, but under the circumstances of this case, that conviction is not appropriate, the appeals court held.

“It stands to reason that the facts alleged in the charging information must be the same facts that form the basis for a lesser included offense,” Judge Margret Robb emphasized. “The trial court found the alleged facts underlying Young’s murder charge were not proved beyond a reasonable doubt, and his conviction for attempted aggravated battery was based on other evidence presented at trial. Thus, Young’s attempted aggravated battery conviction is not a lesser included offense of the murder charge.”

“Young was denied the ability to limit his defense when he was convicted of a crime despite the trier of fact’s belief that a connection between Young and the charged murder was not proved beyond a reasonable doubt. Because Young was convicted of a crime entirely different from the one with which he was charged, his conviction cannot stand,” she wrote.
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June 13

Domestic Relation – Contempt/Appointment of Counsel

Brian S. Moore v. Kristy L. Moore

49A04-1310-DR-499

A Marion County man has made a prima facie showing that the trial court erred by denying his request for counsel at a hearing on contempt. Brian Moore’s ex-wife wanted him found in contempt for not paying the full amount of child support.

Moore is supposed to pay his ex-wife $139 per week in support for their two children. She filed a motion for rule to show cause why Moore should not be found in contempt for failing to pay less than $50 since the June 2013 order. She asked the court to order him to serve 30 days in jail and that the sentence be suspended pending his compliance.

At the hearing on the motion, Moore appeared pro se and asked that an attorney be appointed to represent him because he faced jail time. But Marion Superior Judge Robert Altice Jr. denied the request because any jail sentence would be suspended. The court found Moore in contempt, sentenced him to 30 days and suspended it until a compliance hearing was held.

“Here, there is a clear possibility that Brian is indigent. Furthermore, even though the trial court suspended the sentence and indicated it would reconsider the issue of appointing counsel prior to the compliance hearing, Brian clearly risked the possibility of losing his physical liberty as a result of the trial court’s contempt finding. Thus, if indigent, Brian was entitled to have counsel represent him at that hearing, not just at the subsequent compliance hearing,” Judge Michael Barnes.  

The case is remanded for the court to determine if Moore is indigent and, if so, to appoint counsel to represent him at a new contempt hearing.
__________

June 18

Criminal – Expert Witness/Right to Confrontation

Michael Torres v. State of Indiana

49A02-1308-CR-727

The Indiana Court of Appeals upheld a murder conviction after the defendant argued his right to confront witnesses against him was violated. But one judge on the panel agreed with Michael Torres and wrote in his dissent that Torres should have a new trial.

Torres was convicted of carrying a handgun without a license and murder in connection to the shooting death of Darnall Lindsay outside an Indianapolis apartment in 2011. Dr. John Cavanaugh performed the autopsy on Lindsay, but when Torres’ trial was held in July 2013, Cavanaugh had left Marion County. Dr. Joye Carter, the chief forensic pathologist at the Marion County Coroner’s Office, was called by the state as an expert witness. Torres did not object to her testimony and Cavanaugh’s report was admitted into evidence.

Torres claimed the trial court violated his right to confrontation and committed fundamental error when it permitted Carter to testify about the results of the victim’s autopsy when she did not perform the autopsy.

“We do not find fundamental error in the admission of Dr. Carter’s testimony. Dr. Carter was asked whether she had an occasion to ‘look at and examine the autopsy of a Darnell Lindsay, autopsy #12-0024?’ But there is no reference to exactly what was included in that autopsy. Nor was any specific reference made to Dr. Cavanaugh’s report,” Judge Melissa May wrote for the majority. “When questioned about the number of times the victim had been shot, Dr. Carter referred to ‘the investigation’ and ‘the doctor’s report,’ but it is not apparent from her testimony to which documents she was referring. We therefore cannot conclude that the ‘investigation’ or ‘report’ to which she was referring was Dr. Cavanaugh’s report, or that her testimony otherwise invoked Torres’ right to confront a witness.”

The majority, which included Judge L. Mark Bailey, also found any error in admitting Carter’s testimony regarding the number of gunshot wounds the victim sustained and Torres’ claim of self-defense was harmless.

Judge James Kirsch dissented, citing Bullcoming v. New Mexico, __ U.S. __, 131 S. Ct. 2705, 2710 (2011), in which the Supreme Court of the United States has held with respect to autopsy reports that the accused’s right is to be confronted with the analyst who makes the certification and that surrogate testimony does not satisfy the constitutional requirement. He does not believe any error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt and that there should be a new trial.
__________

June 19

Civil Plenary – Insurance/Personal Injury/Class Action

Thomson Inc. n/k/a Technicolor USA, Inc. v. Insurance Company of North America n/k/a Century Indemnity Company, et al., and XL Insurance America, et al.

49A05-1109-PL-470

The Indiana Court of Appeals issued a lengthy opinion dealing with an insurance coverage dispute between a company headquartered in Indiana and its insurers regarding claims from Taiwanese workers that they were made ill from contaminants from a manufacturing plant.

Former factory workers and their heirs filed a class-action lawsuit in Taiwan against Thomson Consumer Electronics Television Taiwan Ltd., which owned and operated the manufacturing plant from the late 1980s to 1992. The workers alleged they were exposed to toxic solvents while working at the plant and living in dormitories near the plant. Less than 1 percent of the company’s stock is owned by Thomson Inc. n/k/a Technicolor USA Inc., which is headquartered in Indiana. Thomson was named as a defendant based on theories of corporate veil piercing and joint liability.

In July 2008, Thomson notified its primary insurers about the Taiwan class action. Three days later, Thomson filed its original declaratory judgment complaint against its primary and umbrella insurers, which included XL Insurance America Inc. and Century Indemnity Co. The trial court ruled XL and Century have a duty to defend Thomson.

A point of disagreement among the appeals judges was over the proration terms in XL’s and Century’s policies. The trial court, citing Allstate Ins. Co v. Dana, 759 N.E.2d 1049, 1058 (Ind. 2001), referred to as Dana II, found no clear or precise proration terms, so coverage is for all sums related to the insurance subject to policy limits. The policies in the instant case used “those sums” instead of “all sums.” Judges Terry Crone and Cale Bradford cited a case out of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana that contained similar policy language and held that the language at issue here is not subject to Dana II.

“We believe that the trial court will be best situated to select (and customize, if necessary) the fairest method of apportioning liability among the insurers in light of the factual complexities of the case at the appropriate time. And for that reason, we believe that the trial court should be afforded broad discretion in selecting and applying an apportionment method,” Crone wrote in the 83-page majority decision.

Chief Judge Nancy Vaidik dissented on this issue, writing that she agrees with Dana II and believes the language of the policies at issue is not specific enough to demand proration of damages.

“As Thomson points out in its brief, it will be difficult for a court to determine exactly when and in what amount damages occurred. The majority answers this by giving the trial-court judge two main tests to decide upon and ‘broad discretion in selecting and applying an apportionment method.’ This is unfair to the insurance companies, Thomson, and its employees,” she wrote.

“The risk that each of the parties calculated in offering and buying insurance is as uncertain post injury as ever. The majority opinion also has broad-range consequences for future long-tail coverage cases as the risk that each future insurer and insured calculate up front are not subject to change based upon the vicissitudes of the 400 trial-court judges who have received little or no direction from us.”

She agreed with her colleagues on all other issues, including the trial court’s finding of two “occurrences” under the XL and Century policies and that Thomson must satisfy the deductible for each occurrence for certain policies issued from 2000 to 2005.

The case is remanded for further proceedings.
__________

June 23

Civil Tort – Medical Malpractice/Expert Witness

Donald Bunger and Flora Bunger v. Jason A. Brooks, M.D.

45A03-1309-CT-360

The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed summary judgment in favor of a doctor in a lawsuit alleging medical malpractice, finding the trial court should not have stricken the affidavit of the plaintiffs’ expert witness.

Donald Bunger was 88 years old when Dr. Jason Brooks performed cataract surgery on his left eye. Bunger suffered from age-related macular degeneration and was able to see out of his left eye, but was functionally blind in his right eye due to the AMD. During surgery, Bunger experienced a capsular tear in the eye, which can occur in the absence of negligence during a cataract surgery. After surgery, the vision in Bunger’s eye rapidly decreased to the point he is now functionally blind in the left eye.

Bunger and his wife filed a complaint with the Indiana Department of Insurance alleging malpractice; the medical review panel ruled in favor of Brooks regarding surgery and treatment, but found a material issue of fact regarding the issue of informed consent.

In their lawsuit, the Bungers provided deposition testimony and an affidavit from their expert witness, Dr. Harry Knopf. Brooks moved for – and the court granted the motion – to strike the affidavit because Knopf’s statement that the surgery caused the visual loss differed from his statements in the deposition in which Knopf couldn’t conclude whether Bunger’s vision would be better or worse today if he hadn’t had the surgery.

The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Brooks, but the Court of Appeals reversed.

The judges found in reading Knopf’s deposition testimony, it was entirely consistent with his affidavit. The doctor was testifying regarding two separate topics. In his deposition, he testified to the likely natural progression of the AMD over the course of several years. And in his affidavit, he testified to the rapid progression of the AMD immediately following surgery, Judge Edward Najam wrote.

Also, at his deposition, Knopf testified at length regarding the apparent connection between the surgery and the sudden loss of vision thereafter. His affidavit corroborated that testimony. That evidence is sufficient to create a genuine issue of material fact, and the trial court erred when it entered summary judgment in favor of Dr. Brooks.

The judges found a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the surgery proximately caused Bunger’s injuries and whether – and to what extent – his pre-existing condition contributed to his injuries. The case goes back to the trial court for further proceedings.
__________

June 24

Civil Plenary – Damages/Replevin/Loss of Use

Roy Bayer Trust and Penny Harris v. Red Husky, LLC

18A02-1307-PL-581

The Indiana Court of Appeals ordered a trial court to factor in the loss of use of a semi-tractor in a replevin action. It emphasized to the lower court that the amount of damages in a replevin action must be limited to a reasonable amount.

Red Husky LLC filed a complaint against the Roy Bayer Trust and trustee Penny Harris seeking replevin of a Kenworth semi-tractor and damages. Red Husky leased the Kenworth to Daniel Bowne and Bowne Transport, but Bowne defaulted on his lease for the Kenworth and stopped paying rent on a building owned by the trust. He abandoned the building, leaving the Kenworth behind. From September 2011 to September 2012, Red Husky tried to retrieve the Kenworth, but Harris refused, believing the trust had a lien against the semi-tractor.

The trial court ruled the trust did not have a valid lien against the semi-tractor and ordered it released. The trial court found Red Husky was entitled to $10,000 in damages due to deterioration during the time Harris refused to release the Kenworth.

“Harris is correct that Red Husky neglected to provide the trial court with a certificate of title to the Kenworth. Nevertheless, we conclude the evidence designated by Red Husky was sufficient to establish its ownership of the Kenworth, and thus the trial court did not err by awarding summary judgment to Red Husky,” Judge Margret Robb wrote. The judges pointed to evidence such as sworn statements claiming ownership, a lease to purchase agreement, and a form filed with the Bureau of Motor Vehicles indicating Red Husky was the lessor of the Kenworth.

They also ruled the $10,000 damages award was supported based on the fair-market value of the Kenworth of $16,000 and that it was sold for $6,000 due to deterioration that occurred while Harris held the semi-tractor for a year.

The COA believed the trial court should have also considered loss of use in its damages award, and ordered the trial court to do so. The judges cited McCready v. Harrison, 1:05-CV-1359-DFH-WTL, 2009 WL 62260 (S.D. Ind. 2009), in which the court held in a replevin action that loss of use damages must be reasonable in relation to the fair-market value of the property.

“We recognize that McCready is not binding precedent, but we believe the rule it espouses is a prudent one and should be considered in determining damages in a replevin action. The amount of damages in a replevin action must be limited to a reasonable amount — both as a general matter and in relation to the fair market value of the property. And although deterioration and loss of use are separate theories of recovery, we believe the total damages award is subject to a requirement of reasonableness,” Robb wrote.•

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  4. Mr. Levin says that the BMV engaged in misconduct--that the BMV (or, rather, someone in the BMV) knew Indiana motorists were being overcharged fees but did nothing to correct the situation. Such misconduct, whether engaged in by one individual or by a group, is called theft (defined as knowingly or intentionally exerting unauthorized control over the property of another person with the intent to deprive the other person of the property's value or use). Theft is a crime in Indiana (as it still is in most of the civilized world). One wonders, then, why there have been no criminal prosecutions of BMV officials for this theft? Government misconduct doesn't occur in a vacuum. An individual who works for or oversees a government agency is responsible for the misconduct. In this instance, somebody (or somebodies) with the BMV, at some time, knew Indiana motorists were being overcharged. What's more, this person (or these people), even after having the error of their ways pointed out to them, did nothing to fix the problem. Instead, the overcharges continued. Thus, the taxpayers of Indiana are also on the hook for the millions of dollars in attorneys fees (for both sides; the BMV didn't see fit to avail itself of the services of a lawyer employed by the state government) that had to be spent in order to finally convince the BMV that stealing money from Indiana motorists was a bad thing. Given that the BMV official(s) responsible for this crime continued their misconduct, covered it up, and never did anything until the agency reached an agreeable settlement, it seems the statute of limitations for prosecuting these folks has not yet run. I hope our Attorney General is paying attention to this fiasco and is seriously considering prosecution. Indiana, the state that works . . . for thieves.

  5. I'm glad that attorney Carl Hayes, who represented the BMV in this case, is able to say that his client "is pleased to have resolved the issue". Everyone makes mistakes, even bureaucratic behemoths like Indiana's BMV. So to some extent we need to be forgiving of such mistakes. But when those mistakes are going to cost Indiana taxpayers millions of dollars to rectify (because neither plaintiff's counsel nor Mr. Hayes gave freely of their services, and the BMV, being a state-funded agency, relies on taxpayer dollars to pay these attorneys their fees), the agency doesn't have a right to feel "pleased to have resolved the issue". One is left wondering why the BMV feels so pleased with this resolution? The magnitude of the agency's overcharges might suggest to some that, perhaps, these errors were more than mere oversight. Could this be why the agency is so "pleased" with this resolution? Will Indiana motorists ever be assured that the culture of incompetence (if not worse) that the BMV seems to have fostered is no longer the status quo? Or will even more "overcharges" and lawsuits result? It's fairly obvious who is really "pleased to have resolved the issue", and it's not Indiana's taxpayers who are on the hook for the legal fees generated in these cases.

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