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Court: Conference constitutes 'congestion'

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A Marion Superior judge didn't err by continuing a jury trial because a mandatory judicial conference resulted in too few judges and magistrates being available, the Indiana Supreme Court has reiterated in an order.

In the order issued Oct. 16, justices denied a woman's request for a writ of mandamus.

The case involved a woman's felony domestic battery charge and the subsequent speedy trial she requested. After her arrest in July and a bond hearing that month, she made the procedural request and the trial court - Marion Superior Criminal Division 16 - set her trial for Sept. 17. However, there were too few judicial officers available to handle Roxie Brown's trial because the court calendar didn't lighten as usual and a statutorily mandated Indiana Judicial Conference in Indianapolis Sept. 16-18.

Judge Kimberly Brown continued the proceeding because of court congestion until the "next earliest reasonable time" - Oct. 22; after hearings denying a change, Roxie Brown filed a writ request Oct. 5.

Roxie Brown argued that the trial court's scheduling of her hearing on one of the conference dates rendered the trial date "meaningless" and said she should be released through speedy trial Criminal Rule 4(b), which requires a trial within 70 days unless there's a reasonable continuance or another specific delay. But the Indiana Attorney General's Office disagreed, writing in its opposition brief that the notion was absurd and court officers could have been available if they'd been able to condense the calendar, as often happens in the months between the scheduling and the proceeding itself.

The issue isn't new. The Indiana Court of Appeals considered the issue more than a decade ago, when it decided Sholar v. State, 626 N.E.2d 547, 549 (Ind. 1993). That decision found no abuse in a trial court's discretion by delaying the trial because of a judicial conference judges and magistrates were required to attend.

If Roxie Brown continues to dispute the scheduling and continuance of her speedy trial process, the AG's Office suggested in its brief that she could raise the issue on appeal.

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