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Governor backs court reforms

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Expect some talk of sweeping court reforms in the coming legislative session.

Gov. Mitch Daniels this morning announced plans to move forward with more than a dozen local government reform proposals first unveiled a year ago by a commission, co-chaired by former Gov. Joe Kernan and Indiana Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard. That report can be viewed here.

Some of the proposals have already been enacted, and the governor today recommended most of those remaining be considered by the General Assembly in the coming year.

Three court-specific measures that would impact all Indiana counties are: shifting the funding for all trial courts, probation officers, and public defenders to the state; transferring local court clerk responsibilities to the local election board or a newly established county executive; and eliminating all of the township Small Claims courts in Marion County and transferring those courts' duties to the Marion Superior courts.

The funding shift recommendation has been modified slightly from what the commission originally proposed, a change that could impact the timing of any possible reforms.

"Once the state's fiscal circumstances improve, it would make sense for the state to assume the costs of the trial court system over a period of years, including probation officers and public defenders," the recommendation rationale states. "Indiana's courts could operate more efficiently and fairly, ensuring that all citizens have the same access to justice. A transition period would be necessary to allow time for currently serving judges to complete their terms in office."

With the chief justice standing behind him along with a line of commission members and state officials, the governor said these were 16 of the total 27 recommendations made in the Kernan-Shepard report, and taken all together could save taxpayers about $630 million if adopted by the legislature.

Because of the tough budget-setting season in store, Daniels expects the legislation will be introduced in various pieces, rather than one large package.

Among the other changes the governor is recommending:

• Establish a single-person elected county executive to replace the current three county commissioners.

• Each county would have a county council as its only legislative body.

• Responsibilities for administering the duties of the county recorder, treasurer, assessor, surveyor, and coroner would be transferred to the lone county executive. These positions no longer would be elected while county sheriff, clerk, and auditor still would be chosen by voters.

• Create a county-wide body to oversee all public-safety services.

• School districts with less than 1,000 students would have to combine their district central office operations with another district unless they already are part of a county-wide district. After such a consolidation, no high schools may be closed for at least five years.

• Conduct all non-partisan school elections during November in even years.

• Move all municipal elections to even-numbered years.

• Transfer the responsibilities of municipal health departments to the county health department.

• Reorganize library systems by county instead of by municipality.

• Prohibit employees of a local government unit from serving as elected officials on the same local government unit.

• Designate a state office to provide technical assistance to local government.

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  1. The fee increase would be livable except for the 11% increase in spending at the Disciplinary Commission. The Commission should be focused on true public harm rather than going on witch hunts against lawyers who dare to criticize judges.

  2. Marijuana is safer than alcohol. AT the time the 1937 Marijuana Tax Act was enacted all major pharmaceutical companies in the US sold marijuana products. 11 Presidents of the US have smoked marijuana. Smoking it does not increase the likelihood that you will get lung cancer. There are numerous reports of canabis oil killing many kinds of incurable cancer. (See Rick Simpson's Oil on the internet or facebook).

  3. The US has 5% of the world's population and 25% of the world's prisoners. Far too many people are sentenced for far too many years in prison. Many of the federal prisoners are sentenced for marijuana violations. Marijuana is safer than alcohol.

  4. My daughter was married less than a week and her new hubbys picture was on tv for drugs and now I havent't seen my granddaughters since st patricks day. when my daughter left her marriage from her childrens Father she lived with me with my grand daughters and that was ok but I called her on the new hubby who is in jail and said didn't want this around my grandkids not unreasonable request and I get shut out for her mistake

  5. From the perspective of a practicing attorney, it sounds like this masters degree in law for non-attorneys will be useless to anyone who gets it. "However, Ted Waggoner, chair of the ISBA’s Legal Education Conclave, sees the potential for the degree program to actually help attorneys do their jobs better. He pointed to his practice at Peterson Waggoner & Perkins LLP in Rochester and how some clients ask their attorneys to do work, such as filling out insurance forms, that they could do themselves. Waggoner believes the individuals with the legal master’s degrees could do the routine, mundane business thus freeing the lawyers to do the substantive legal work." That is simply insulting to suggest that someone with a masters degree would work in a role that is subpar to even an administrative assistant. Even someone with just a certificate or associate's degree in paralegal studies would be overqualified to sit around helping clients fill out forms. Anyone who has a business background that they think would be enhanced by having a legal background will just go to law school, or get an MBA (which typically includes a business law class that gives a generic, broad overview of legal concepts). No business-savvy person would ever seriously consider this ridiculous master of law for non-lawyers degree. It reeks of desperation. The only people I see getting it are the ones who did not get into law school, who see the degree as something to add to their transcript in hopes of getting into a JD program down the road.

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