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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. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  2. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  3. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

  4. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

  5. "No one is safe when the Legislature is in session."

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