ILNews

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. Based on several recent Indy Star articles, I would agree that being a case worker would be really hard. You would see the worst of humanity on a daily basis; and when things go wrong guess who gets blamed??!! Not biological parent!! Best of luck to those who entered that line of work.

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  4. Law school is social control the goal to produce a social product. As such it began after the Revolution and has nearly ruined us to this day: "“Scarcely any political question arises in the United States which is not resolved, sooner or later, into a judicial question. Hence all parties are obliged to borrow, in their daily controversies, the ideas, and even the language, peculiar to judicial proceedings. As most public men [i.e., politicians] are, or have been, legal practitioners, they introduce the customs and technicalities of their profession into the management of public affairs. The jury extends this habitude to all classes. The language of the law thus becomes, in some measure, a vulgar tongue; the spirit of the law, which is produced in the schools and courts of justice, gradually penetrates beyond their walls into the bosom of society, where it descends to the lowest classes, so that at last the whole people contract the habits and the tastes of the judicial magistrate.” ? Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

  5. Attorney? Really? Or is it former attorney? Status with the Ind St Ct? Status with federal court, with SCOTUS? This is a legal newspaper, or should I look elsewhere?

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