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Indiana judiciary continues to lead by example

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Even though times are tough, the Indiana chief justice says the Hoosier judiciary remains strong and continues to be a leader that other states look to as an example.

Giving his 24th annual State of the Judiciary speech on Wednesday before a joint session of the Indiana General Assembly, Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard praised the state court system’s efforts during the past year that have materialized despite the economic climate and lack of resources for everyone.

Talking about how people across the country and state discuss how broken government is and how public leaders aren’t listening to constituents, the chief justice talked about how the legal community has responded and proven they can rise above the economic crisis.

“In short, Indiana’s judiciary is one that keeps its feet planted firmly on this territory, on Hoosier soil, while keeping its eyes on the horizon,” Chief Justice Shepard said, highlighting four areas where he observed the state courts thriving during 2010.

- Mortgage foreclosures: With foreclosure filings higher last year than in 2009 and the courts burdened with those cases, the chief justice highlighted how homeowners have the opportunity now for a settlement conference and that more than 40 percent of homeowners respond when a court sends out a separate settlement notice. The conferences are used in counties that have 60 percent of the foreclosures and Chief Justice Shepard said they’ll be implemented statewide by the end of this year, in addition to the best practices document the State Court Administration has recently published to help judges outline case management plans.

- Smarter sentencing: As the state legislature discusses how to revise sentencing so that high-risk offenders receive appropriate sentences and are incarcerated, the chief justice talked about how local corrections officials have already been tackling that issue. He discussed how a risk assessment tool recently became mandatory for every criminal and delinquency court statewide, and that 2,300 probation officers and judges and court staff have been trained to use it.

- Technology: Praising the continued implementation of the statewide Case Management System called Odyssey, the chief justice said the system is being used in 77 courts in 26 counties and at least 175 are on a waiting list to participate. The participation reflects use in a third of the state’s courts since the project began in late 2007, and he urged lawmakers to temporarily increase from $7 to $10 the automated record-keeping fee to help speed up the process. The chief justice also praised other technology avenues that have been put into place during the past year, including electronic notification systems tracking police citations, protective orders in domestic violence cases, and when someone is adjudicated mentally ill so those individuals can be kept from obtaining firearms.

- Jury instructions: The state unveiled new instructions last fall, taking much of the legalese out of courtroom instructions and replacing it with examples and language that non-attorneys can easily understand.

“The men and women of the Indiana courts tackle all these issues and more, both through long-range strategic planning and through immediate action,” Chief Justice Shepard said. “So, it’s with the men and women of Indiana’s courts, who’ve proven themselves able at diagnosing a defect or identifying an opportunity, recruiting talented people, and capable of seizing the moment on the basis of the best ideas available.”
 

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  • Stepping Out of Bounds
    â??Why would you overcharge the taxpayers of Indiana hundreds of millions of dollars just to make government bigger and less efficient?â?? â??Theyâ??ve forgotten itâ??s the taxpayer who pays for government.â?? Governor Mitch Daniels

    The Indiana Supreme Court could serve Hoosier taxpayers better if they would heed Governor Daniels wisdom especially in these economic times. While I appreciate and share the Indiana Supreme Courtâ??s attempts to link courts statewide and bring some uniformity to the courts, this has already been done by the commercial marketplace. So spending one-tenth of a BILLION of Hoosier taxpayersâ?? dollars for Odyssey and other software applications that replicate what already exists in the commercial marketplace at one-tenth the cost makes no economic sense. And once again, the Chief Justice announces to all that he wants Hoosier to pay 50% more for these redundant systems. Not only does the Supreme Court replicate software that already exists in the marketplace, they are also crossing what is the constitutional boundary of the County Clerk, law enforcement, prosecutor, probation and public defender. The Indiana Supreme Court is in the business of writing traffic citations (that are up nearly 50% since 2004), filing traffic tickets with the Clerk and they are doing the Clerk record keeping over the risky and costly internet. The e-CWS (electronic citation), Protective Order Registry and Mental Health Adjudication systems are wonderful systems but they should be the responsibility of the prosecutor and law enforcement. Hopefully it is time to stop government competing against the private sector and respect Constitutional boundaries. If so, the taxpaying marketplace will be able to create more Hoosier taxpaying jobs and Indiana will once again be open to free market competition that will save Hoosier taxpayers tens of millions of dollars every year.

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  2. 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.

  3. 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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