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Federal court dismisses suit against judge

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A federal judge has thrown out a lawsuit against an Allen Circuit judge because the judge was entitled to judicial immunity in a suit filed by a pro se plaintiff disgruntled about a small claims ruling. 

U.S District Judge Rudy Lozano in the Northern District of Indiana dismissed with prejudice Tim S. Stefanski's suit against Allen Circuit Judge Thomas J. Felts Tuesday. Stefanski claimed the judge denied his right to a jury trial, right to legal counsel, and that his wages are being garnished in violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practice Act.

Judge Felts, entered a judgment against Stefanski and initiated garnishment proceedings to satisfy the judgment from the Small Claims Division of the Allen Superior Court.

Stefanski claimed in Tim S. Stefanski v. Martha M. McDermott and Thomas J. Felts, No. 1:08-cv-00123, because of the collections practices, he was unable to pay his rent and was evicted. He sought monetary and punitive damages against the judge.

Judge Felts is immune from liability in this case because the alleged illegal acts claimed by Stefanski were actions taken within his judicial discretion, wrote Judge Lozano. On this reason alone, the claims against Judge Felts can be dismissed. But the claims are also barred by the 11th Amendment because the judge was being sued in his official capacity and under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine that states lower federal courts generally don't have the power to exercise appellate review over state court decisions.

Stefanski had also filed a similar suit against Allen Superior Magistrate Judge Brian Cook after the magistrate judge entered judgment against Stefanski and initiated garnishment proceedings against him. That suit was also dismissed because the magistrate judge was entitled to absolute judicial immunity.

Judge Lozano noted that claims against Martha McDermott remain pending.

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  1. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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