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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. Linda, I sure hope you are not seeking a law license, for such eighteenth century sentiments could result in your denial in some jurisdictions minting attorneys for our tolerant and inclusive profession.

  2. Mazel Tov to the newlyweds. And to those bakers, photographers, printers, clerks, judges and others who will lose careers and social standing for not saluting the New World (Dis)Order, we can all direct our Two Minutes of Hate as Big Brother asks of us. Progress! Onward!

  3. My daughter was taken from my home at the end of June/2014. I said I would sign the safety plan but my husband would not. My husband said he would leave the house so my daughter could stay with me but the case worker said no her mind is made up she is taking my daughter. My daughter went to a friends and then the friend filed a restraining order which she was told by dcs if she did not then they would take my daughter away from her. The restraining order was not in effect until we were to go to court. Eventually it was dropped but for 2 months DCS refused to allow me to have any contact and was using the restraining order as the reason but it was not in effect. This was Dcs violating my rights. Please help me I don't have the money for an attorney. Can anyone take this case Pro Bono?

  4. If justice is not found in a court room, it's time to clean house!!! Even judges are accountable to a higher Judge!!!

  5. The small claims system, based on my recent and current usage of it, is not exactly a shining example of justice prevailing. The system appears slow and clunky and people involved seem uninterested in actually serving justice within a reasonable time frame. Any improvement in accountability and performance would gain a vote from me. Speaking of voting, what do the people know about judges and justice from the bench perspective. I think they have a tendency to "vote" for judges based on party affiliation or name coolness factor (like Stoner, for example!). I don't know what to do in my current situation other than grin and bear it, but my case is an example of things working neither smoothly, effectively nor expeditiously. After this experience I'd pay more to have the higher courts hear the case -- if I had the money. Oh the conundrum.

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