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Chief’s recusal results in split Supreme Court

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The same day it heard arguments about the dissolution of a Brown County fire district, the Indiana Supreme Court reinstated the intermediate court’s ruling on the case because of a 2-2 division caused by the recusal of Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard.

On Tuesday, the high court heard arguments in Ronald Sanders, et al. v. Board of Commissioners of Brown County, et. al, No. 07S04-1010-CV-600, which hit on local government reform with a challenge to a countywide fire protection district created by county officials back in 2007.

The Brown County Commissioners in September 2007 enacted an ordinance establishing a fire district, but in January 2009 a new commission with two new members voted to dissolve it. Some residents pursued injunctive relief on grounds the dissolution ordinance was void because no dissolution petition or ordinance repeal had been filed.

The trial court granted summary judgment for the county officials, but the Court of Appeals in February 2010 reversed that ruling. The Supreme Court granted transfer and heard arguments this week, focusing on the state dissolution statute and how it applies here.

But Chief Justice Shepard wasn’t a part of the case. He’d recused himself after one of the attorneys had requested it on the first incarnation of the case – when some residents challenged the creation of the fire district – and it went before a different special trial judge and up through the appellate courts. The attorney asked the chief justice to step aside since he’d co-chaired a local government reform commission advocating for those types of changes, and the petition in late 2008 questioned the chief justice’s ability to be impartial in this case, having served as an advocate for what this case is about. At that time, the court voted not to grant transfer.

But now with this secondary case challenging the dissolution of the district, the chief justice’s recusal remained in effect and he didn’t participate.

Justice Brent Dickson served as the acting chief justice and he joined with Justice Frank Sullivan in believing the trial court decision was correct. But Justices Steven David and Robert Rucker disagreed and found the trial court decided incorrectly, resulting in a split.

“This rare circumstance is anticipated in our rules, which provide that in cases where the Supreme Court is evenly divided upon the proper disposition of the cause once transfer is granted, the decision of the Court of Appeals shall be reinstated,” an order says, citing Appellate Rule 58(c) and reinstating as precedent Gaudian v. Austin, 921 N.E. 2d 895 (Ind. Ct. App. 2010).

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  1. I just wanted to point out that Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner, Senator Feinstein, former Senate majority leader Bill Frist, and former attorney general John Ashcroft are responsible for this rubbish. We need to keep a eye on these corrupt, arrogant, and incompetent fools.

  2. Well I guess our politicians have decided to give these idiot federal prosecutors unlimited power. Now if I guy bounces a fifty-dollar check, the U.S. attorney can intentionally wait for twenty-five years or so and have the check swabbed for DNA and file charges. These power hungry federal prosecutors now have unlimited power to mess with people. we can thank Wisconsin's Jim Sensenbrenner and Diane Feinstein, John Achcroft and Bill Frist for this one. Way to go, idiots.

  3. I wonder if the USSR had electronic voting machines that changed the ballot after it was cast? Oh well, at least we have a free media serving as vicious watchdog and exposing all of the rot in the system! (Insert rimshot)

  4. Jose, you are assuming those in power do not wish to be totalitarian. My experience has convinced me otherwise. Constitutionalists are nearly as rare as hens teeth among the powerbrokers "managing" us for The Glorious State. Oh, and your point is dead on, el correcta mundo. Keep the Founders’ (1791 & 1851) vision alive, my friend, even if most all others, and especially the ruling junta, chase only power and money (i.e. mammon)

  5. Hypocrisy in high places, absolute immunity handed out like Halloween treats (it is the stuff of which tyranny is made) and the belief that government agents are above the constitutions and cannot be held responsible for mere citizen is killing, perhaps has killed, The Republic. And yet those same power drunk statists just reel on down the hallway toward bureaucratic fascism.

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