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Bill proposes modest Marion County small claims reforms

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Modest reforms to the derided Marion County township small claims courts are proposed in a bill scheduled to get a committee hearing Wednesday.

The Senate Judiciary Committee will hear Senate Bill 366, which would create a new oversight position for the county’s township small claims courts, which are unique in Indiana. The courts have been criticized for practices perceived to favor heavy-volume debt-collection filers, allegations of forum shopping and other problems.

Legislation authored by Indianapolis Republican senators R. Michael Young and Scott Schneider would create a position of small claims administrative judge which would be elected by the nine township judges from among their ranks. The administrative judge would be charged with court supervision duties that currently fall to the Marion County Circuit Court judge.

The bill also would add language that could reduce wage garnishments to satisfy judgments. Upon a showing of cause, the minimum garnishment could be as little as 10 percent of a person’s disposable earnings. I.C. 24-4.5-5-105 currently allows 25 percent of disposable earnings to be garnisheed to satisfy judgments.

Chief Justice Brent Dickson urged lawmakers to take steps to reform the courts during his State of the Judiciary Address earlier this month.

“Our present system has been the subject of ridicule by the Wall Street Journal, and local newspaper and television reporters launched investigations into the system,” Dickson told a joint session of the House and Senate on Jan. 15.

While he noted some local rules changes and needed reforms followed a report from a task force led by Court of Appeals Judge John Baker and Senior Judge Betty Barteau, Dickson told lawmakers, “Systemic change is imperative, and this requires legislative action.”

The Senate Judiciary Committee will consider SB 366 at 9 a.m. Wednesday in Room 130 of the Statehouse.





 

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