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High court grants 6 transfers

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The Indiana Supreme Court took six cases last week, including two cases of first impression before the Indiana Court of Appeals involving attorney’s fees under the Adult Wrongful Death Statute and the modification of a felony conviction to a misdemeanor.  

In Jeffery H. McCabe, As Representative of the Estate of Jean Francis McCabe, Decedent v. Commissioner, Indiana Department of Insurance as Administrator of the Indiana Patient’s Compensation Fund, No. 49S02-1010-CV-602, Jeffrey McCabe appealed the grant of partial summary judgment in favor of the commissioner, and Indiana Department of Insurance as administrator of the Indiana Patient’s Compensation Fund. The trial court had ruled attorney’s fees and expenses incurred by the attorney representing the personal representative of a wrongful death estate are not recoverable damages under the state Adult Wrongful Death Statute.

McCabe cited Hillebrand v. Supervised Estate of Large, 914 N.E.2d 846 (Ind. Ct. App. 2009), to support his argument, but the appellate court noted Hillebrand is distinguishable from the instant case because it was a probate case deciding from which probate assets attorney’s fees incurred should be paid, and it precedes both the Child Wrongful Death Statute and the AWDS. The judges also relied on Butler v. Indiana Department of Insurance, 904 N.E.2d, 198, 202 (Ind. 2009), in which the Supreme Court held that the “include but not limited to” language doesn’t expand the class of necessitated expenses.

Judge Patricia Riley dissented, believing Hillebrand, Butler, and Estate of Kuba, (508 N.E.2d 1, 2 (Ind. 1987), permitted reasonable attorney’s fees to be considered recoverable damages under the AWDS. A separate panel of judges ruled in September in Indiana Patient's Compensation Fund v. Beverly S. Brown, et al., No. 49A02-1001-CT-80, that attorney’s fees and other costs can be awarded under the AWDS. That panel used Judge Riley’s dissent to support its decision.

In State of Indiana v. Jeffrey Brunner, No. 57S04-1010-CR-603, the Court of Appeals reversed and remanded with instructions the trial court’s modification of Jeffrey Brunner’s criminal sentence from a Class D felony to a Class A misdemeanor nine years after he pleaded guilty to operating a vehicle while intoxicated.

The judges examined Indiana Code Section 35-50-2-7(b), which the trial court used to modify his sentence, and found that the decision on whether to enter judgment on a Class D felony or Class A misdemeanor must be made at the moment of the original entry of the judgment of conviction. Judge Edward Najam said the trial court’s reliance on that statute to grant the requested relief was contrary to the plain meaning of the statute and an abuse of discretion.

In Susanne C. Gaudin, et al. v. J.W. Austin, president, et al., No. 07S04-1010-CV-600, Susanne Gaudin and other plaintiffs sought declaratory and injunctive relief upon learning the Brown County Commissioners enacted an ordinance in January 2009 purporting to dissolve a fire district. That district was created by a September 2007 ordinance. The plaintiffs alleged the dissolution ordinance was void because no petition to dissolve the district or repeal the ordinance establishing it had been filed.

The trial court granted summary judgment for the commissioners, ruling there's no reason to conclude that a governing body with the authority to establish the fire protection district doesn't have similar authority to dissolve it, but the Court of Appeals held county commissioners had no authority to enact the ordinance to attempt to dissolve the fire district.

Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard recused himself from hearing this case based on his involvement in leading the Indiana Commission on Local Government Reform, which provided recommendations for a leaner local government structure in the Kernan-Shepard report.

In Steven and Lauren Siwinski v. Town of Ogden Dunes, No. 64S03-1010-CV-599, the Court of Appeals reversed summary judgment for Ogden Dunes in its complaint against the Siwinskis alleging they violated an ordinance by renting out their house for periods of fewer than 30 days, which constituted a commercial use. The judges held nothing in the designated evidence established that any commerce or other activities not associated with a residence were ever conducted on the Siwinskis' property, nor did the evidence show that, at any time, the property was occupied by more than a single family simultaneously. They remanded for summary judgment to be entered in favor of the Siwinskis.

The Supreme Court granted transfer to two cases involving the same incident. In Damion Wilkins v. State of Indiana, No. 02S03-1010-CR-604, and Cornelius Tyrone Lacey Sr. v. State of Indiana, No. 02S05-1010-CR-601, the Court of Appeals reversed the denial of Damion Wilkins’ and Cornelius Lacey’s motions to suppress evidence obtained during the execution of a search warrant. During a trash pull at a suspected cocaine and marijuana dealer’s home, Lacey, police found mail addressed to Wilkins. He was at Lacey’s home when police decided to serve a search warrant in a “no-knock” fashion for officer safety and rammed the door down.

The appellate judges found there was probable cause for the issuance of the search warrant but the unilateral decision to dispense with the knock-and-announce rule was unreasonable under the Indiana Constitution. The police, if they were worried about their safety, had time to apply for a “no-knock” warrant, but did not. The appellate court took issue with the emergency response team’s policy that authorizes a unilateral decision to enter a home without knocking when there hasn’t been an independent determination regarding the circumstances. Judge Michael Barnes concurred in result in both decisions.

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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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