Look it up, lawmakers

September 22, 2008
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From Indiana Lawyer reporter Michael Hoskins:

We look at Indiana’s appellate decisions every day. Frequently, a legal issue is raised about an ambiguous federal or state statute where words aren’t defined and the courts must address what the legislative intent could be for those words and statutes.

The issue came up in a Court of Appeals case, which we wrote a story about today, that examined the undefined meaning of the word “repair” in the state mechanic’s lien statute. Judges didn’t have a definition in the law to work with, so they consulted Webster’s – a common practice that often sees jurists consulting Black’s Law Dictionary and others. It happens often, with cases hinging on definitions of simple words such as “shall.” We’ve seen it in recent years on terms such as “proceeds” in the federal money-laundering statute or “legal incidents of marriage” as lawmakers wrestled over a same-sex marriage ban.

One has to wonder if lawmakers think to look at a dictionary when crafting legislation that might become law. We have lawyers at the Statehouse who, you’d think, would know better and be able to foresee potential legal battles over vague wording. But obviously if there are some who question the language and lack of definition, they aren’t able to convince their colleagues before the final passage. It seems like a dictionary could solve many of the legal battles we see regularly – maybe that would be a handy tool lawmakers could be given when taking their oaths of office.
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  1. Future generations will be amazed that we prosecuted people for possessing a harmless plant. The New York Times came out in favor of legalization in Saturday's edition of the newspaper.

  2. Well, maybe it's because they are unelected, and, they have a tendency to strike down laws by elected officials from all over the country. When you have been taught that "Democracy" is something almost sacred, then, you will have a tendency to frown on such imperious conduct. Lawyers get acculturated in law school into thinking that this is the very essence of high minded government, but to people who are more heavily than King George ever did, they may not like it. Thanks for the information.

  3. I pd for a bankruptcy years ago with Mr Stiles and just this week received a garnishment from my pay! He never filed it even though he told me he would! Don't let this guy practice law ever again!!!

  4. Excellent initiative on the part of the AG. Thankfully someone takes action against predators taking advantage of people who have already been through the wringer. Well done!

  5. Conour will never turn these funds over to his defrauded clients. He tearfully told the court, and his daughters dutifully pledged in interviews, that his first priority is to repay every dime of the money he stole from his clients. Judge Young bought it, much to the chagrin of Conour’s victims. Why would Conour need the $2,262 anyway? Taxpayers are now supporting him, paying for his housing, utilities, food, healthcare, and clothing. If Conour puts the money anywhere but in the restitution fund, he’s proved, once again, what a con artist he continues to be and that he has never had any intention of repaying his clients. Judge Young will be proven wrong... again; Conour has no remorse and the Judge is one of the many conned.

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