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. I like the concept. Seems like a good idea and really inexpensive to manage.

  2. I don't agree that this is an extreme case. There are more of these people than you realize - people that are vindictive and/or with psychological issues have clogged the system with baseless suits that are costly to the defendant and to taxpayers. Restricting repeat offenders from further abusing the system is not akin to restricting their freedon, but to protecting their victims, and the court system, from allowing them unfettered access. From the Supreme Court opinion "he has burdened the opposing party and the courts of this state at every level with massive, confusing, disorganized, defective, repetitive, and often meritless filings."

  3. So, if you cry wolf one too many times courts may "restrict" your ability to pursue legal action? Also, why is document production equated with wealth? Anyone can "produce probably tens of thousands of pages of filings" if they have a public library card. I understand this is an extreme case, but our Supreme Court really got this one wrong.

  4. He called our nation a nation of cowards because we didn't want to talk about race. That was a cheap shot coming from the top cop. The man who decides who gets the federal government indicts. Wow. Not a gentleman if that is the measure. More importantly, this insult delivered as we all understand, to white people-- without him or anybody needing to explain that is precisely what he meant-- but this is an insult to timid white persons who fear the government and don't want to say anything about race for fear of being accused a racist. With all the legal heat that can come down on somebody if they say something which can be construed by a prosecutor like Mr Holder as racist, is it any wonder white people-- that's who he meant obviously-- is there any surprise that white people don't want to talk about race? And as lawyers we have even less freedom lest our remarks be considered violations of the rules. Mr Holder also demonstrated his bias by publically visiting with the family of the young man who was killed by a police offering in the line of duty, which was a very strong indicator of bias agains the offer who is under investigation, and was a failure to lead properly by letting his investigators do their job without him predetermining the proper outcome. He also has potentially biased the jury pool. All in all this worsens race relations by feeding into the perception shared by whites as well as blacks that justice will not be impartial. I will say this much, I do not blame Obama for all of HOlder's missteps. Obama has done a lot of things to stay above the fray and try and be a leader for all Americans. Maybe he should have reigned Holder in some but Obama's got his hands full with other problelms. Oh did I mention HOlder is a bank crony who will probably get a job in a silkstocking law firm working for millions of bucks a year defending bankers whom he didn't have the integrity or courage to hold to account for their acts of fraud on the United States, other financial institutions, and the people. His tenure will be regarded by history as a failure of leadership at one of the most important jobs in our nation. Finally and most importantly besides him insulting the public and letting off the big financial cheats, he has been at the forefront of over-prosecuting the secrecy laws to punish whistleblowers and chill free speech. What has Holder done to vindicate the rights of privacy of the American public against the illegal snooping of the NSA? He could have charged NSA personnel with violations of law for their warrantless wiretapping which has been done millions of times and instead he did not persecute a single soul. That is a defalcation of historical proportions and it signals to the public that the government DOJ under him was not willing to do a damn thing to protect the public against the rapid growth of the illegal surveillance state. Who else could have done this? Nobody. And for that omission Obama deserves the blame too. Here were are sliding into a police state and Eric Holder made it go all the faster.

  5. JOE CLAYPOOL candidate for Superior Court in Harrison County - Indiana This candidate is misleading voters to think he is a Judge by putting Elect Judge Joe Claypool on his campaign literature. paragraphs 2 and 9 below clearly indicate this injustice to voting public to gain employment. What can we do? Indiana Code - Section 35-43-5-3: Deception (a) A person who: (1) being an officer, manager, or other person participating in the direction of a credit institution, knowingly or intentionally receives or permits the receipt of a deposit or other investment, knowing that the institution is insolvent; (2) knowingly or intentionally makes a false or misleading written statement with intent to obtain property, employment, or an educational opportunity; (3) misapplies entrusted property, property of a governmental entity, or property of a credit institution in a manner that the person knows is unlawful or that the person knows involves substantial risk of loss or detriment to either the owner of the property or to a person for whose benefit the property was entrusted; (4) knowingly or intentionally, in the regular course of business, either: (A) uses or possesses for use a false weight or measure or other device for falsely determining or recording the quality or quantity of any commodity; or (B) sells, offers, or displays for sale or delivers less than the represented quality or quantity of any commodity; (5) with intent to defraud another person furnishing electricity, gas, water, telecommunication, or any other utility service, avoids a lawful charge for that service by scheme or device or by tampering with facilities or equipment of the person furnishing the service; (6) with intent to defraud, misrepresents the identity of the person or another person or the identity or quality of property; (7) with intent to defraud an owner of a coin machine, deposits a slug in that machine; (8) with intent to enable the person or another person to deposit a slug in a coin machine, makes, possesses, or disposes of a slug; (9) disseminates to the public an advertisement that the person knows is false, misleading, or deceptive, with intent to promote the purchase or sale of property or the acceptance of employment;

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