Bills on courts, forfeiture before governor

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Several Indiana counties will have their Circuit and Superior courts unified and certain judges will no longer have to be less than 70 years old when they take office, thanks to legislation passed during the 2011 session of the General Assembly.

House Enrolled Act 1266 originally intended to create a unified Clark Circuit court, but it became a more expansive bill dealing with court issues as the session progressed. The legislation that passed establishes unified Circuit courts in Clark County – beginning Jan. 1, 2012 – and in Madison and Henry counties, effective July 1, 2011.

HEA 1266 also dictates that Lake Superior County judges are chosen by a nominating commission instead of through elections. The judges appointed by the governor will be up for retention every six years.

buck-jim-mug Buck

The bill ends the age restriction on those who run for Superior and County judicial office. This language is also in Senate Enrolled Act 463, authored by Sen. Jim Buck, R-Kokomo. He said the same language was added into HEA 1266 to try to ensure its survival after the House Democrats walk-out in February.

Buck said no particular judge was the catalyst for the bill, but he heard from several staff members of Superior judges who were concerned about the age limit. He noted that people are living longer these days and the statutes need to reflect this.

“It’s a shame to waste the wisdom and experience these older judges have just because of an arbitrary and out-of-date age limit,” Buck wrote in an email to Indiana Lawyer. “Our Indiana Constitution does not place age restrictions on circuit court judges, so it’s unfair to subject superior court judges to them.”

House Enrolled Act 1153 expands who may participate in problem-solving court programs, when and how to end someone’s participation, and also makes parents and guardians financially responsible for certain fees and expenses assessed against the juvenile involved in problem-solving court programs. HEA 1153 also includes details on the Criminal Law and Sentencing Policy Study Committee.

The budget bill passed by legislators in the waning days of the session included a change to the automated record-keeping fee. Senate Bill 301 originally called for increasing the fee which would help pay for the Judicial Technology and Automation Committee’s implementation of a statewide case-management system and other applications, but that bill did not gain legislative approval. The language that was inserted into the budget bill calls for the current $7 fee to be reduced to $5 after June 30, 2011.

Mary DePrez, director and counsel of trial court technology for JTAC, sees the end result as a positive for the Indiana Supreme Court-supported effort. The fee was scheduled to drop to $4 July 1, so now JTAC will receive an extra dollar with no end date specified. Clerks in counties that don’t use Odyssey will be able to retain $1 of the automated record-keeping fee.

Since SB 301 didn’t pass with the larger fee increases, DePrez said JTAC won’t be able to implement Odyssey as quickly as hoped, but the committee is looking for federal dollars that could speed up the process of getting the system into more courts.

“The court recognizes that these are difficult and challenging financial times for all Hoosiers, and the Legislature is tasked with making critical and difficult decisions, so we are grateful they recognized the importance of what we are doing for the courts, clerks, law enforcement, and probation departments, and I believe that the increase in the fee to $5 is in recognition of that,” she said.

This legislative session also brought changes to how funds from civil forfeiture cases stemming from criminal acts are disbursed to the school common fund, law enforcement, and prosecutors. The law currently allows for police and prosecutors to seize the proceeds of the crime from the offender and file a forfeiture action to use those proceeds to fund law enforcement and prosecutorial efforts, but there were no guidelines or uniformity in distribution around the state.

dePrez-mary-mug DePrez

Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller encouraged legislators to establish a formula on how those funds should be distributed. In August 2010, a lawsuit was filed claiming prosecutors have violated the statute that directs money from civil forfeitures to the Indiana Common School Fund. That suit was dismissed in April.

SEA 215 requires money generated in the forfeiture cases to be divided among prosecuting attorneys, law enforcement, and schools. One-third of the proceeds would go to prosecutors; of the remaining dollars, 15 percent would go to the common school fund, and 85 percent would go to an account for law enforcement agencies involved in the seizure for necessary expenses.

On the day it was enacted by the General Assembly, author Sen. Richard Bray, R-Martinsville, said, “This legislation recognizes there are legal costs as well as police agency expenses in prosecuting a forfeiture case and obtaining the funds generated. A top priority in setting the calculation was to cover these expenses, while keeping in mind ways we can help our schools with the money as well.”

The legislation requires the court handling a forfeiture case to notify the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute of the amount and manner of the forfeiture distribution.

The governor has received SEA 215, SEA 463, HEA 1153, and HEA 1266, but had not signed them as of Indiana Lawyer deadline. He has until May 11 to sign HEA 1266, May 12 to sign SEA 463, and May 13 to sign SEA 215 and HEA 1153.

The governor has already signed several other bills including: HEA 1215, which allows for a protected person to attend a hearing through the use of closed-circuit television; and SEA 495, which prohibits a school corporation from using money received from the state to bring or join an action against the state. The law does allow for using state money if the school is challenging an adverse decision by a state agency, board, or commission.

Zoeller supported this legislation, believing non-state dollars should be used to fund these lawsuits. The AG is currently defending the school funding formula in a suit filed by three school corporations – Hamilton Southeastern Schools in Hamilton County, Franklin Township Community Schools in Marion County, and Middleburry Community Schools in Elkhart County. The case is currently before the Indiana Supreme Court pursuant to Indiana Rules of Appellate Procedure 56(A).•


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  1. If a class action suit or other manner of retribution is possible, count me in. I have email and voicemail from the man. He colluded with opposing counsel, I am certain. My case was damaged so severely it nearly lost me everything and I am still paying dearly.

  2. There's probably a lot of blame that can be cast around for Indiana Tech's abysmal bar passage rate this last February. The folks who decided that Indiana, a state with roughly 16,000 to 18,000 attorneys, needs a fifth law school need to question the motives that drove their support of this project. Others, who have been "strong supporters" of the law school, should likewise ask themselves why they believe this institution should be supported. Is it because it fills some real need in the state? Or is it, instead, nothing more than a resume builder for those who teach there part-time? And others who make excuses for the students' poor performance, especially those who offer nothing more than conspiracy theories to back up their claims--who are they helping? What evidence do they have to support their posturing? Ultimately, though, like most everything in life, whether one succeeds or fails is entirely within one's own hands. At least one student from Indiana Tech proved this when he/she took and passed the February bar. A second Indiana Tech student proved this when they took the bar in another state and passed. As for the remaining 9 who took the bar and didn't pass (apparently, one of the students successfully appealed his/her original score), it's now up to them (and nobody else) to ensure that they pass on their second attempt. These folks should feel no shame; many currently successful practicing attorneys failed the bar exam on their first try. These same attorneys picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and got back to the rigorous study needed to ensure they would pass on their second go 'round. This is what the Indiana Tech students who didn't pass the first time need to do. Of course, none of this answers such questions as whether Indiana Tech should be accredited by the ABA, whether the school should keep its doors open, or, most importantly, whether it should have even opened its doors in the first place. Those who promoted the idea of a fifth law school in Indiana need to do a lot of soul-searching regarding their decisions. These same people should never be allowed, again, to have a say about the future of legal education in this state or anywhere else. Indiana already has four law schools. That's probably one more than it really needs. But it's more than enough.

  3. This man Steve Hubbard goes on any online post or forum he can find and tries to push his company. He said court reporters would be obsolete a few years ago, yet here we are. How does he have time to search out every single post about court reporters and even spy in private court reporting forums if his company is so successful???? Dude, get a life. And back to what this post was about, I agree that some national firms cause a huge problem.

  4. rensselaer imdiana is doing same thing to children from the judge to attorney and dfs staff they need to be investigated as well

  5. Sex offenders are victims twice, once when they are molested as kids, and again when they repeat the behavior, you never see money spent on helping them do you. That's why this circle continues