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COA offers suggestion about judicial notice rule

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A paternity and child custody case has given the Indiana Court of Appeals a chance to examine a newly amended evidence rule for the first time, while simultaneously offering guidance to trial judges about using publicly accessible information to dispose of cases.

The state’s intermediate appellate court issued a ruling today in Paternity of P.R. and A.R.; H.B. v. J.R., No. 36A01-1005-JP-255, which for the first time gave a three-judge panel an opportunity to rule on a 2010 amendment to Indiana Evidence Rule 201 allowing courts to take judicial notice of any records from a court within this state.

This case out of Jackson Superior Court involves a mother and father who dated for four years but never married, and had two children in July 2004 and September 2005. Paternity was established in 2007 and the mother received sole custody, while the father was ordered to pay $150 per week in child support. In late 2009, the father asked to modify custody and support, based on the 27-year-old mother living with a man who had a past felony conviction for battery on a minor less than 14 years old, a conviction for supplying alcohol to a minor, and was reportedly being investigated by child protective services for alleged child abuse.

After a custody modification hearing, the trial court not only took that testimony into consideration but also a protective order that the mother had obtained against another man she had recently dated, relating to a felony battery conviction. The mother didn’t request a hearing or file any objection on that issue as allowed by Rule 201(e).

The trial court awarded custody to the father and allowed the mother parenting time, and also ordered that the father should receive a $60 per week credit to his child support arrearage for about 15 months.

On appeal, the mother argued that the trial court erred in considering the substance of the protective order she’d previously obtained because that document wasn’t admitted into evidence in this ongoing paternity and custody case.

The Court of Appeals noted that Evidence Rule 201 was amended in late 2009 and went into effect Jan. 1, 2010, meaning this is the first chance an appellate court has had to consider a case where it applies. Before the revision, a court could not take judicial notice of its own records in another case previously before it, even on a related subject with related parties. The revision states that the judicial notice can happen at any stage of the proceedings, and that a party doesn’t have to be notified before a court takes judicial notice.

The trial court properly took judicial notice of the protective order filed, the appellate judges found, and it doesn’t matter that the notice happened after the hearing was concluded.

“Although Mother was not afforded an opportunity to be heard before the court took judicial notice, Rule 201(e) provides that Mother could have made a timely request after judicial notice was taken,” Judge Nancy Vaidik wrote. “She, however, did not do this.”

Though the appellate panel concluded the trial judge correctly took judicial notice here, the appellate judges pointed out that a better course of action in this case would have been for the court to have given the parties notice and an opportunity to be heard before taking judicial notice and issuing an order.

“Undoubtedly, our information technology explosion has allowed our courts, as never before, to access reliable information that may aid in the just disposition of cases,” Judge Vaidik wrote. “Our Supreme Court, recognizing this, has encouraged courts to communicate with one another by establishing family courts and creating JTAC (Judicial Technology and Automation Committee), while liberalizing the judicial notice rule. But the danger of having a broad spectrum of information at the disposal of courts is that mistakes in input, inscription, and transmission can occur. To alleviate the danger of such errors, litigants must be given the opportunity to explain or respond to judicially-noticed information. We understand that the Indiana Rules of Evidence allow litigants to respond to this information at any stage of the proceeding, but we believe that, where practicable, the best practice is for courts to notify the parties before taking notice of and issuing a ruling which utilizes this information.”

Aside from that judicial notice issue, the appellate court also examined the custody modification and how the lower judge had issued findings on why changes were warranted under state statute and precedent. The panel affirmed the trial court’s ruling unanimously.
 

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  1. He TIL team,please zap this comment too since it was merely marking a scammer and not reflecting on the story. Thanks, happy Monday, keep up the fine work.

  2. You just need my social security number sent to your Gmail account to process then loan, right? Beware scammers indeed.

  3. The appellate court just said doctors can be sued for reporting child abuse. The most dangerous form of child abuse with the highest mortality rate of any form of child abuse (between 6% and 9% according to the below listed studies). Now doctors will be far less likely to report this form of dangerous child abuse in Indiana. If you want to know what this is, google the names Lacey Spears, Julie Conley (and look at what happened when uninformed judges returned that child against medical advice), Hope Ybarra, and Dixie Blanchard. Here is some really good reporting on what this allegation was: http://media.star-telegram.com/Munchausenmoms/ Here are the two research papers: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0145213487900810 http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0145213403000309 25% of sibling are dead in that second study. 25%!!! Unbelievable ruling. Chilling. Wrong.

  4. Mr. Levin says that the BMV engaged in misconduct--that the BMV (or, rather, someone in the BMV) knew Indiana motorists were being overcharged fees but did nothing to correct the situation. Such misconduct, whether engaged in by one individual or by a group, is called theft (defined as knowingly or intentionally exerting unauthorized control over the property of another person with the intent to deprive the other person of the property's value or use). Theft is a crime in Indiana (as it still is in most of the civilized world). One wonders, then, why there have been no criminal prosecutions of BMV officials for this theft? Government misconduct doesn't occur in a vacuum. An individual who works for or oversees a government agency is responsible for the misconduct. In this instance, somebody (or somebodies) with the BMV, at some time, knew Indiana motorists were being overcharged. What's more, this person (or these people), even after having the error of their ways pointed out to them, did nothing to fix the problem. Instead, the overcharges continued. Thus, the taxpayers of Indiana are also on the hook for the millions of dollars in attorneys fees (for both sides; the BMV didn't see fit to avail itself of the services of a lawyer employed by the state government) that had to be spent in order to finally convince the BMV that stealing money from Indiana motorists was a bad thing. Given that the BMV official(s) responsible for this crime continued their misconduct, covered it up, and never did anything until the agency reached an agreeable settlement, it seems the statute of limitations for prosecuting these folks has not yet run. I hope our Attorney General is paying attention to this fiasco and is seriously considering prosecution. Indiana, the state that works . . . for thieves.

  5. I'm glad that attorney Carl Hayes, who represented the BMV in this case, is able to say that his client "is pleased to have resolved the issue". Everyone makes mistakes, even bureaucratic behemoths like Indiana's BMV. So to some extent we need to be forgiving of such mistakes. But when those mistakes are going to cost Indiana taxpayers millions of dollars to rectify (because neither plaintiff's counsel nor Mr. Hayes gave freely of their services, and the BMV, being a state-funded agency, relies on taxpayer dollars to pay these attorneys their fees), the agency doesn't have a right to feel "pleased to have resolved the issue". One is left wondering why the BMV feels so pleased with this resolution? The magnitude of the agency's overcharges might suggest to some that, perhaps, these errors were more than mere oversight. Could this be why the agency is so "pleased" with this resolution? Will Indiana motorists ever be assured that the culture of incompetence (if not worse) that the BMV seems to have fostered is no longer the status quo? Or will even more "overcharges" and lawsuits result? It's fairly obvious who is really "pleased to have resolved the issue", and it's not Indiana's taxpayers who are on the hook for the legal fees generated in these cases.

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