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High court takes 4 cases

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The Indiana Supreme Court has granted transfer to four cases, including two dealing with whether a trial court should assert exemptions in garnishment actions on behalf of pro se debtors.

The justices took Quincy and Shannon Branham v. Rodney Varble and Norman Chastain, No. 62S01-1103-SC-141, and Quincy and Shannon Branham v. Rodney and Carol Varble, No. 62S04-11034-SC-139, in which Quincy and Shannon Branham argued the trial court acted contrary to law when it ordered them to pay $50 a month toward small-claims judgments, make repeated court appearances, and required that Quincy seek five jobs per week.

The Indiana Court of Appeals judges agreed that the part of the order requiring Quincy to seek five jobs a week should be reversed. The majority in both cases upheld the rest of the order and Judge Terry Crone dissented. The judges split over the application of Mims v. Commercial Credit Corp., 261 Ind. 591, 307 N.E.2d 867 (1974). In Mims, the Indiana Supreme Court acknowledged that the general rule is that the burden is on the debtor to claim the exemption. If the debtor is represented pro se, then the court must determine which exemption would be least burdensome.

Judge Crone believed that Mims unambiguously requires that trial courts assert exemptions on behalf of pro se debtors and that the majority construed it far too narrowly in the instant case. But the majority felt that to adopt Judge Crone’s view would essentially recast the role of the judiciary from traditional decision-making to one of advocacy for the parties and that the procedure proposed in Mims was specific to the case before it. No other case has adopted the interpretation of Mims proposed by Judge Crone.

The justices also accepted Allstate Insurance Company v. Timothy Clancy, et al., No. 45S03-1103-CV-138, in which the majority of COA judges reversed the order granting a motion to compel the production of documents from Allstate. The trial court found that by raising an advice of counsel defense, the insurance company had waived the attorney-client privilege, and therefore the documents could be produced.

The majority held that the “fairly debatable” defense, absent any other connection to reliance upon advice of counsel, is tantamount to a good-faith defense and insufficient to waive attorney-client privilege. Judge Margret Robb dissented, writing that when an insurer asserts a claim that is “fairly debatable” refers to a legal issue, it necessarily relies on the advice of counsel and waives the attorney-client privilege.

The Supreme Court granted transfer and released an opinion March 10 in David K. Murphy v. State of Indiana, No. 18S02-1103-CR-142, in which they affirmed that the trial court should be the one to determine whether a defendant who completes an educational degree before sentencing is entitled to educational credit time.

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