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Judge temporarily blocks fines for House boycott

January 20, 2012

Marion Superior Judge David Dreyer has blocked the collection of a $1,000-a-day fine imposed on boycotting lawmakers in the Indiana House of Representatives, granting a temporary restraining order until he can hold a hearing on the merits of the issue next week.

The TRO came late Thursday in an ongoing lawsuit challenging the legislative fines imposed by House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, on Democrat House members who do not show up for official business because of the controversial right-to-work legislation. Rep Bill Crawford, D-Indianapolis, filed the lawsuit after last year’s five-week walkout. He and his colleagues were fined for the walkout which was in protest to the same right-to-work issue.

In addition to Crawford, the case lists Reps. Vanessa Summers, D-Indianapolis, and Shelli Vandenburgh, D-Crown Point, who were added to the suit on Thursday. The court action challenges the legality of the fines being deducted from their pay, not whether those fines could be imposed.

Dreyer ruled late last year that state courts don’t have the ability to interfere with the Indiana General Assembly’s constitutional authority to pass laws or its own internal rules, including how it compels attendance or imposes fines. But the trial judge also ruled that if the legislative body is acting as an employer, then the state must adhere to state statute on employee-wage issues and those claims are ones that trial courts can consider.

Attorney General Greg Zoeller has appealed that decision. Zoeller issued a statement Thursday following Dreyer’s order.

"The order is unfortunate and is a textbook example of why we have separate branches of government and why courts should not allow the judicial system to be used as a legislative tactic during the heat of the session," Zoeller said in the statement.

Dreyer set a hearing for 1:30 p.m. Jan. 27 to hear the merits of the case.

 

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