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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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  2. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  3. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  4. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

  5. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

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