Indiana Tax Court interviews under way

October 27, 2010
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Indiana Lawyer reporter Michael W. Hoskins wrote this blog post.

Four women and three men came before the commission for second interviews, each lasting 25 minutes, with only one break between groups. With only seven people to interview, the commission plans to wrap up about 12:10 p.m. and then deliberate.

In the minutes before the commission began at 9 a.m., Justice Frank Sullivan and newly-installed Indiana Supreme Court Justice Steven David came into the room where they discuss cases in private conference each week. Justice Sullivan drew some laughs when he told a story about how last week, even though it was the first time in 11 years where the second-newest Justice Robert Rucker didn’t have to speak first, he did.

"That didn't stop him from voting first," Justice Sullivan said.

Justices Sullivan and David then offered thought about how important this Tax Court seat is, given that that jurist is the single-most powerful single judgeship in the state with jurisdiction directly under the Supreme Court.

Joby D. Jerrells: First and foremost, he said, a good strong docket is important. Then, he said he’d meet with tax practitioners to hear how they think that tax practice and procedure needs to change. He’d conduct an aging report to determine how old cases are and what could be done more efficiently. Then, he’d look to “enhance, hone, and improve” the jurisprudence that Judge Thomas G. Fisher has created during the past quarter century.

Jerrells would be interested in examining an electronic docket for the Tax Court, and he sees that as being a good test bed to determine how similar efforts can be implemented statewide. Recognizing the significant number of pro se litigants, Jerrells said that he’d ensure those individuals understand the process and know their rights and what’s happening.

Responding to a question about the structure of how appeals come from the Department of Revenue, Jerrells told members that the issue is “brooding” and that the discretion given by the Tax Court to those state agency decisions might need to be examined, possibly by a rule or statute. He also said timeliness should be examined and efficiency should be improved if necessary, particularly since there’s no “lazy judge” rule as exists for state trial courts.

George T. Angelone: The biggest responsibility of the tax judge is providing clear and understandable decisions, using a well thought out system of statutory structure, he said. He’d be interested in being involved in computer issues, such as the JTAC initiatives, and meeting with legislatures. He also would be interested in being a Code and Revision Commission liaison.

Angelone said he would get out of the office and hold court statewide. Answering a question from Chief Justice Randall Shepard, he described the 2002 tax package that involved a sales tax increase as being successful and very influential for the state.

He also talked about how a tax judge must be respectful of the General Assembly, and appearing when requested is a good start if it doesn’t interfere with any pending cases. He’d want to do that, and also work with the bar on addressing substantive issues.

Hon. Karen M. Love: The court is uniquely situated at the intersection of the three branches of government, and the judge’s job is to recognize the court’s role, understand legal issues it’ll deal with, have an ability to lead by example, and to explain its decisions, she said. Indiana can be a leader in tax law as it is seen nationally on jury reform.

As the only state trial judge applying for this post, the Hendricks Superior judge said the tax judge’s responsibility is to provide “timely and affordable justice for all” and that her experience has prepared her for this role on the administrative and legal and judiciary sides. The court must set the pace, provide uniformity, and participate with the entire legal community to make sure everyone understands what’s happening.

During her nearly 16 years on the trial bench, she has observed firsthand the pro se litigant issues and strives to follow the rules and communicate with them about what’s expected. One commission member noted that he was impressed with her writing, and Judge Love noted that she’s learned from the lawyers and other jurists throughout the state. “I’m a product of the legal profession, the judiciary in Indiana. I want you to see what trial judges are like, and I want to make them proud.”

Melony A. Sacopulos: Sacopulos talked about how the Tax Court is a specialty court with one judge that can impact the rest of the judiciary. The judge must follow the judiciary’s vision and strategic plan, be concise in its writing so that rationale and precedent is understood, and make sure that professionalism and fiscal responsible are demonstrated.

She discussed her hard work ethic and professional background and civic involvement, and her experience as treasurer at Indiana State University. Sacopulos said the correct place for a court to opine is in its opinions, and the judge must be careful about passing comments on matters outside of cases – even in interactions with the legislature.

The standard of review is the same as far as how appeals get to the court from state agencies, and she said she wouldn’t presume to offer thoughts on that without being familiar with what might be happening in that process or a specific case. Some streamlining might be needed in property tax assessments, she said. As far as pro se litigants, Sacopulos said the court must be kind, courteous, and respectful and make sure individuals understand the court’s rationale.

A summary of the next round of interviews including Martha Wentworth, Dan Carwile, and Carol Comer will be posted to IL’s website later today. Deliberations are scheduled to start at 12:20 p.m.

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  1. Where may I find an attorney working Pro Bono? Many issues with divorce, my Disability, distribution of IRA's, property, money's and pressured into agreement by my attorney. Leaving me far less than 5% of all after 15 years of marriage. No money to appeal, disabled living on disability income. Attorney's decision brought forward to judge, no evidence ever to finalize divorce. Just 2 weeks ago. Please help.

  2. For the record no one could answer the equal protection / substantive due process challenge I issued in the first post below. The lawless and accountable only to power bureaucrats never did either. All who interface with the Indiana law examiners or JLAP be warned.

  3. Hi there I really need help with getting my old divorce case back into court - I am still paying support on a 24 year old who has not been in school since age 16 - now living independent. My visitation with my 14 year old has never been modified; however, when convenient for her I can have him... I am paying past balance from over due support, yet earn several thousand dollars less. I would contact my original attorney but he basically molest me multiple times in Indy when I would visit.. Todd Woodmansee - I had just came out and had know idea what to do... I have heard he no longer practices. Please help1

  4. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  5. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

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