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'0INK' vanity plate fight could go to Legislature

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A fuss over a police officer's vanity plate has blown up into a constitutional debate that could lead to the Indiana General Assembly deciding whether to rewrite the law or stop selling personalized license plates altogether.

The Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles said it would file a notice of appeal Monday, asking the state Supreme Court to overrule a local judge who said the agency violated the officer's freedom of speech when it revoked his license plate that read "0INK."

Drivers haven't been able to buy vanity plates in Indiana since July 2013, when Greenfield Police Officer Rodney Vawter sued the BMV, with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana. The agency's website offers guidance on how to apply for personalized license plates but warns that it is not currently accepting applications.

BMV Commissioner Donald M. Snemis told The Associated Press in an exclusive interview that if the Indiana Supreme Court agrees to take up the issue, it may direct lawmakers to rewrite the law. This could lead to the removal of the right to have vanity plates for all Indiana drivers.

"At that point, the Legislature is going to have to have a discussion about whether we want to have a personalized license plate system," Snemis said.

Vawter, who had his license plate for three years, won his lawsuit last month in Marion County Court. He did not return phone messages or emails seeking comment.

In his ruling, Judge James Osborn also took on the BMV, saying it has no formal regulations in place for evaluating the content of vanity plates and ordering it to create standards that meet constitutional requirements within six months.

Osborn said the agency was inconsistent when approving plates based on content. For example, the agency revoked an "UNHOLY" vanity plate but allowed vanity plates such as "B HOLY" and "HOLYONE."

Osborn ordered the agency to restore the program under strict guidelines until it could write new rules that don't violate freedom of speech.

The BMV argues that the ruling rewrote the rules and would force it to allow offensive plates that might insult ethnic groups. But the ACLU contends in legal documents that the BMV is still allowed to deny plates that are defamatory, vulgar or could incite violence.

Getting rid of personalized license plates might not mean much in monetary terms, as vanity plate sales accounted for only 2.8 percent of the $103 million sent to license branches across the state in 2013, according to BMV figures obtained by the AP.

But, politically, it could have an impact.

"The Legislature is free — of course — to drop the personalized license plate program. However, I believe every state has one and it is extremely popular," ACLU of Indiana Legal Director Ken Falk said in an email.

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  1. For many years this young man was "family" being my cousin's son. Then he decided to ignore my existence and that of my daughter who was very hurt by his actions after growing up admiring, Jason. Glad he is doing well, as for his opinion, if you care so much you wouldn't ignore the feelings of those who cared so much about you for years, Jason.

  2. Good riddance to this dangerous activist judge

  3. What is the one thing the Hoosier legal status quo hates more than a whistleblower? A lawyer whistleblower taking on the system man to man. That must never be rewarded, must always, always, always be punished, lest the whole rotten tree be felled.

  4. I want to post this to keep this tread alive and hope more of David's former clients might come forward. In my case, this coward of a man represented me from June 2014 for a couple of months before I fired him. I knew something was wrong when he blatantly lied about what he had advised me in my contentious and unfortunate divorce trial. His impact on the proceedings cast a very long shadow and continues to impact me after a lengthy 19 month divorce. I would join a class action suit.

  5. The dispute in LB Indiana regarding lake front property rights is typical of most beach communities along our Great Lakes. Simply put, communication to non owners when visiting the lakefront would be beneficial. The Great Lakes are designated navigational waters (including shorelines). The high-water mark signifies the area one is able to navigate. This means you can walk, run, skip, etc. along the shores. You can't however loiter, camp, sunbath in front of someones property. Informational signs may be helpful to owners and visitors. Our Great Lakes are a treasure that should be enjoyed by all. PS We should all be concerned that the Long Beach, Indiana community is on septic systems.

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