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Former Marion Superior judge dies

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Former Marion Superior Judge John "Jan" D. Downer died Aug.10 at the age of 73. Judge Downer was appointed a Marion County Municipal judge in 1978 by Gov. Otis Bowen and served as judge for 22 years. He retired from the Marion Superior Court in 2000 and worked as a senior judge until 2004.

Former colleague and friend Marion Superior Senior Judge Chuck Wiles said Judge Downer was always well-prepared and well-informed about the law and was respected by lawyers.

"I would say Jan may have sometimes been a little stubborn," Judge Wiles said. "He always had a good reason for any decision he made."

The two started working together as municipal judges in the 1970s - before the Marion courts consolidated in the 1990s - and developed a friendship off the bench. Judge Downer loved to travel and the two often traveled together to educational seminars. He loved to prepare trips, find ways to get there, and places to go, said Judge Wiles.

Before becoming a judge, he practiced law for 14 years. Judge Downer received his J.D. from Indiana University School of Law - Indianapolis in 1964. He was active with the Indiana Bar Association and his church.

Judge Downer is survived by his wife, Betty Grigg Downer; son Jeff Downer; daughter Susan Bradley; stepdaughter Molli Kias; and four grandchildren. A memorial service will be at 11 a.m. Saturday at Zion Evangelical United Church of Christ, 416 E. North St., Indianapolis. Visitation with a luncheon will follow at the church.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Julian Center or the Alzheimer's Association, Greater Indianapolis Chapter.

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  1. Mr. Levin says that the BMV engaged in misconduct--that the BMV (or, rather, someone in the BMV) knew Indiana motorists were being overcharged fees but did nothing to correct the situation. Such misconduct, whether engaged in by one individual or by a group, is called theft (defined as knowingly or intentionally exerting unauthorized control over the property of another person with the intent to deprive the other person of the property's value or use). Theft is a crime in Indiana (as it still is in most of the civilized world). One wonders, then, why there have been no criminal prosecutions of BMV officials for this theft? Government misconduct doesn't occur in a vacuum. An individual who works for or oversees a government agency is responsible for the misconduct. In this instance, somebody (or somebodies) with the BMV, at some time, knew Indiana motorists were being overcharged. What's more, this person (or these people), even after having the error of their ways pointed out to them, did nothing to fix the problem. Instead, the overcharges continued. Thus, the taxpayers of Indiana are also on the hook for the millions of dollars in attorneys fees (for both sides; the BMV didn't see fit to avail itself of the services of a lawyer employed by the state government) that had to be spent in order to finally convince the BMV that stealing money from Indiana motorists was a bad thing. Given that the BMV official(s) responsible for this crime continued their misconduct, covered it up, and never did anything until the agency reached an agreeable settlement, it seems the statute of limitations for prosecuting these folks has not yet run. I hope our Attorney General is paying attention to this fiasco and is seriously considering prosecution. Indiana, the state that works . . . for thieves.

  2. I'm glad that attorney Carl Hayes, who represented the BMV in this case, is able to say that his client "is pleased to have resolved the issue". Everyone makes mistakes, even bureaucratic behemoths like Indiana's BMV. So to some extent we need to be forgiving of such mistakes. But when those mistakes are going to cost Indiana taxpayers millions of dollars to rectify (because neither plaintiff's counsel nor Mr. Hayes gave freely of their services, and the BMV, being a state-funded agency, relies on taxpayer dollars to pay these attorneys their fees), the agency doesn't have a right to feel "pleased to have resolved the issue". One is left wondering why the BMV feels so pleased with this resolution? The magnitude of the agency's overcharges might suggest to some that, perhaps, these errors were more than mere oversight. Could this be why the agency is so "pleased" with this resolution? Will Indiana motorists ever be assured that the culture of incompetence (if not worse) that the BMV seems to have fostered is no longer the status quo? Or will even more "overcharges" and lawsuits result? It's fairly obvious who is really "pleased to have resolved the issue", and it's not Indiana's taxpayers who are on the hook for the legal fees generated in these cases.

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