ILNews

COA named as defendant in federal lawsuit

Jennifer Nelson
January 1, 2007
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The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed a conviction for Class C felony nonsupport of a dependant, despite the court being named as a defendant in a federal suit filed by the disgruntled appellant-defendant.

In Christopher J. Stephens v. State of Indiana, 20A05-0702-CR-95, Stephens appealed his felony conviction of nonsupport of his child, as well as issues that should have been challenged during his child support proceedings or trial on the matter.

Unhappy with the results of his child support order and conviction, Stephens and his father, Michael Jack Stephens, filed a federal lawsuit in the U.S. District court, Southern District of Indiana, against "all members" of the Indiana Court of Appeals, Michael Jack and Christopher Joe Stephens, et al. v. Elkhart County Superior Court No. 6, et al. 1:07-CV-0671-LJM-TAB.

In a footnote, Judge Michael Barnes references the lawsuit, "Because the lawsuit names 'all members,' it would be impossible to resolve this present appeal if all the judges of this court recused themselves. Therefore, the 'rule of necessity' mandates that we address this appeal because there is no one else to do it."

In the Court of Appeals opinion, Stephens brought up four issues for appeal: whether the trial court properly prohibited him from collaterally attacking the child support order entered by another court in a prior proceeding; whether the trial court properly denied his Baston challenge; whether the trial court properly rejected his affirmative defense of inability to pay; and whether there was sufficient evidence to enhance his conviction to a Class C felony of nonsupport.

Stephens had a child with Jessica Sluss and was originally order to pay her $64 a week in child support. Sluss petitioned for a modification of the order, which Stephens attended with no attorney, did not present documents showing his weekly or yearly earnings, and brought to court paperwork that reflected he earned $1,375.77 a week as a truck driver. Stephens claimed more than $850 came out of that total to cover fuel costs. The trial court increased his weekly support payments to $263.26 based on the $1,375.77. The trial court told Stephens in September 2004 that until he presented documentation to show his weekly gross income, that amount would stand.

Stephens never petitioned to modify the order and never made any payments to Sluss. He did not show up for court, was arrested in Georgia, and in January 2006 was charged with Class D felony nonsupport between July and November 2005 and Class C felony for nonsupport in excess of $15,000.

A jury found Stephens guilty of the Class D felony charge, and the trial court heard the enhancement portion of the trial and found him guilty of the Class C felony.

During the trial, Stephens was collaterally estopped from arguing the validity of the child support order increasing his weekly payments. The trial court did not abuse its discretion in collaterally estopping Stephens because child support modification orders must be challenged during proceedings or by direct appeal from the proceedings and not relitigated at the criminal court, wrote Judge Barnes.

The trial court was also not erroneous in overruling Stephen's objection to dismissing the only potential African-American juror. The trial court record shows the juror was dismissed because she said she found it difficult to accept how someone who was in prison and unable to pay child support could be convicted, not because of her race or gender.

The trial court correctly established that Stephens did not adequately prove his inability to pay the modified child support amount. The jury and trial court considered all evidence, including Stephens' and his father's testimony. The Court of Appeals also affirmed his conviction of the Class D felony based on state statute and evidence of arrearage presented during the bench trial, including testimony from the Elkhart Prosecutor's Office Child Support Division.

In May 2007, Stephens and his father filed the federal lawsuit naming several defendants, including the entire Court of Appeals, attorney general, Elkhart County Sheriff, and Elkhart County judges. In the brief, Stephens and his father contend the "judges, lawyers, court officers, CASA, and the like" did not follow the law and had "the Indiana Code and Child Support Guidelines been followed instead of being rewritten by the judge, we would NOT have this action to perform."
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  1. 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?

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

  3. 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.

  4. My dear Smith, I was beginning to fear, from your absense, that some Obrien of the Nanny State had you in Room 101. So glad to see you back and speaking truth to power, old chum.

  5. here is one from Reason magazine. these are not my words, but they are legitimate concerns. http://reason.com/blog/2010/03/03/fearmongering-at-the-splc quote: "The Southern Poverty Law Center, which would paint a box of Wheaties as an extremist threat if it thought that would help it raise funds, has issued a new "intelligence report" announcing that "an astonishing 363 new Patriot groups appeared in 2009, with the totals going from 149 groups (including 42 militias) to 512 (127 of them militias) -- a 244% jump." To illustrate how dangerous these groups are, the Center cites some recent arrests of right-wing figures for planning or carrying out violent attacks. But it doesn't demonstrate that any of the arrestees were a part of the Patriot milieu, and indeed it includes some cases involving racist skinheads, who are another movement entirely. As far as the SPLC is concerned, though, skinheads and Birchers and Glenn Beck fans are all tied together in one big ball of scary. The group delights in finding tenuous ties between the tendencies it tracks, then describing its discoveries in as ominous a tone as possible." --- I wonder if all the republicans that belong to the ISBA would like to know who and why this outfit was called upon to receive such accolades. I remember when they were off calling Trent Lott a bigot too. Preposterous that this man was brought to an overwhelmingly republican state to speak. This is a nakedly partisan institution and it was a seriously bad choice.

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