Talk of reform and recusal

November 5, 2008
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From IL reporter Michael Hoskins:

Indiana Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard took some time Wednesday following Election Day to talk with about 60 people about local government reform. He spoke at the North United Methodist Church in Indianapolis about his work last year on the Indiana Commission on Local Government Reform, which issued a report calling for sweeping statewide changes in how the system is setup. The chief justice pointed out that our Hoosier state has 2 percent of the nation’s population, but accounts for 8 percent of its governance and that most people don’t know all their local officials. One point he discussed was about public safety, particularly how a mixture of full-time and volunteer fire departments throughout the state duplicate services and aren’t the most efficient or cost-effective option for residents. “This is not a commentary on the people, but on the structure of the system in which they belabor,” he said.

Interestingly, that issue of local government reform that he spoke about is one that is currently before the Indiana Supreme Court, at least in the form of a transfer petition. A Nashville attorney challenging a countywide fire protection district that his clients say was created illegally wants the high court to take the case, and is asking the state’s top jurist to recuse himself from it because of his involvement with local government reform efforts. That case is Ronald Sanders, et al. v. Board of Commissioners of Brown County, et. al, No. 07A01-0803-CV-00104 and follows a September ruling from the Court of Appeals allowing for the district’s creation under the Home Rule Act.

But now, given the chief justice’s advocating for this type of consolidation where necessary, it begs the question of whether the chief justice should recuse himself from this case and any similar ones that could come before the court in the future. While he’s likely able to distinguish between both roles, questions of public perception can sometimes be just as weighty as the administration of justice itself. No decision has been made yet on the transfer request or the recusal question, according to the appellate clerk’s docket.
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