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Judge orders Indiana BMV to resume selling plates

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The Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles must resume issuing personalized license plates, a Marion County judge ordered Wednesday, but that doesn't mean it'll happen in the near future.

Judge James Osborn denied the state's request that he stay his May ruling, which ordered it to resume selling vanity plates, BMV spokesman Josh Gillespie and the Indiana attorney general's office said. But the bureau informed the Indiana Supreme Court on July 7 it intends to appeal Osborn's ruling and also asked it to stay the lower-court order, meaning that the issue is not yet resolved.

The BMV had suspended the plates' sales in July 2013, after Greenfield Police Officer Rodney Vawter sued the bureau for revoking his license plate that read "0INK."

Osborn found the BMV violated Vawter's freedom of speech and also found the system for issuing the plates unconstitutional. He said that the BMV has no formal regulations in place for evaluating the content of vanity plates and ordered it to create standards that meet constitutional requirements within six months.

Osborn ruled that the BMV violated some vanity plate applicants' free speech rights by turning down some requests while allowing others. For example, the agency revoked an "UNHOLY" vanity plate but allowed vanity plates such as "B HOLY" and "HOLYONE."

The BMV cited a state statute that allowed it to refuse to issue a plate when officials deem it carries "a connotation offensive to good taste and decency" or that "would be misleading." The state agency also argues Osborn's May ruling rewrote the rules and would force it to allow offensive plates that might insult ethnic groups.

But the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana, which represents Vawter, contends in legal documents that the BMV is still allowed to deny plates that are defamatory, vulgar or could incite violence. Ken Falk, legal director of the ACLU of Indiana, said Wednesday he doesn't believe the grounds for a stay have been met.

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  5. I whole-heartedly agree with Doug Church's comment, above. Indiana lawyers were especially fortunate to benefit from Tom Pyrz' leadership and foresight at a time when there has been unprecedented change in the legal profession. Consider how dramatically computer technology and its role in the practice of law have changed over the last 25 years. The impact of the great recession of 2008 dramatically changed the composition and structure of law firms across the country. Economic pressures altered what had long been a routine, robust annual recruitment process for law students and recent law school graduates. That has, in turn, impacted law school enrollment across the country, placing upward pressure on law school tuition. The internet continues to drive significant changes in the provision of legal services in both public and private sectors. The ISBA has worked to make quality legal representation accessible and affordable for all who need it and to raise general public understanding of Indiana laws and procedures. How difficult it would have been to tackle each of these issues without Tom's leadership. Tom has set the tone for positive change at the ISBA to meet the evolving practice needs of lawyers of all backgrounds and ages. He has led the organization with vision, patience, flexibility, commitment, thoughtfulness & even humor. He will, indeed, be a tough act to follow. Thank you, Tom, for all you've done and all the energy you've invested in making the ISBA an excellent, progressive, highly responsive, all-inclusive, respectful & respected professional association during his tenure there.

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