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Justices: Center Township Small Claims court stays put

June 28, 2013

What’s been called the state’s busiest court will stay in the City-County Building in Indianapolis, the Indiana Supreme Court ordered Friday, blocking the Center Township trustee’s bid to relocate the court to a location on Fall Creek Parkway.

“We approve the renovations, additional staff, and the mandate prohibiting the relocation of the court. We disapprove the mandated salary increases,” Justice Robert Rucker wrote for the court in In Re Mandate of Funds for Center Township of Marion County Small Claims Court Order for Mandate and Mandate of Funds,  
49S00-1207-MF-420.  “We affirm the decree of the special judge.”

Justices unanimously affirmed the special judge Charles E. Berger, whose decree largely endorsed Center Township of Marion County Judge Michelle Smith Scott’s mandate for funds to reconfigure the small claims court location and hire additional staff in its present location, the same building that houses Marion Circuit and Superior Courts.

Scott also objected to Township Trustee Eugene Akers’ control of court staff and his push to move the court to the Julia Carson Center on Fall Creek Parkway, where more than $500,000 was spent to renovate space for a courtroom.

"On review of this mandate order, our job is not to assess whether the Carson Center would be a 'better' location for the court. Rather, we must determine whether the record contains substantial evidence of probative value that there is a clear and present danger of impairment to the court or court functions if the court is not maintained and reconfigured in its present location. We find that it does," Rucker wrote.

The opinion notes the central location of the court in the township and that it is well served by mass transit routes easily accessible around the township. “We also find it relevant that the court in this case, as with most small claims courts, hears a substantial volume of consumer collection cases and landlord-tenant disputes such as evictions.

“According to a comprehensive study of legal needs of the poor in Indiana, it is precisely these types of cases that most frequently plague low-income Hoosiers,” Rucker wrote. “(I)t is also worth noting that the Center Township Small Claims Court is not only in the same building, but is on the same floor as courts handling paternity and child support, domestic violence, and protective orders – services also of particular relevance to this demographic.

 “We conclude the record is replete with probative evidence that moving the Center Township Small Claims Court away from its present location poses a clear and present danger to access to justice for the litigants it serves, and that maintaining and upgrading the Court in its present location is reasonably necessary to preserve that access,” the opinion states.

The ruling also will add two full-time staff members in the court and states that Akers “shall relinquish control over Court functions, and that authority over its employees and its financial operations shall be vested solely in the Court.”



 





 

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