ILNews

Indiana traffic court issues dent judiciary's public perception

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrint

Hundreds of cases come before them each week and present issues that may give judges only a few moments to make a decision about a parking or moving violation.

These community-focused courts that handle traffic infractions, ordinance violations and sometimes small claims can be seen as a sort of “People’s Court” that offer litigants a glimpse of the justice process. These settings are often the only experience an individual might have as a litigant in a courtroom.

But in a time when the court process is seen by some as confusing, delay-ridden, and one that only a lawyer can understand, public perception is being clouded even more by recent events in Indiana.

Two central Indiana traffic court judges are under fire for their conduct and practices in their courtrooms, with one Marion Superior judge facing disciplinary charges after sparking statewide legislative changes and criticism from the Indiana Court of Appeals. The other jurist, who serves as a Beech Grove city judge, is being scrutinized for his conduct on and off the bench and how he’s been conducting his court for the past three years.

Some judges and attorneys say the public’s view of the entire judiciary is tarnished by these issues. It becomes even more difficult for the legal community to do its job, they say, when situations like these affect the general confidence people have in the legal system. That concern is amplified now as the state judiciary wants to reform the court system in an effort to reduce redundancy and confusion and make the process less complicated for people.

“Judges have many duties on the bench, but one of those is minding that public perception,” said Greenwood City Judge Lew Gregory, who said he’s heard about the recent examples out of Marion County and Beech Grove. “Whenever that reputation gets dinged, the system suffers and all the courts feel an impact...”

Most recently, Beech Grove City Judge Charles W. Hunter has been in the news for his handling of a woman’s handicapped parking citation in his court. Charity Bryan, who uses a wheelchair, received a ticket in August for parking in a handicapped spot without a placard, and she went to court to contest it on the grounds that the valid placard had simply fallen off her rearview mirror. She said the judge refused to dismiss the ticket, but a local television news team later reporting on the issue reportedly caught Judge Hunter – the 87-year-old attorney and jurist who uses a wheelchair himself – parking in a handicapped spot without a placard displayed and then verbally shrugging it off because he didn’t get a ticket from police.

The city mayor has publicly defended the judge, who he brought out of retirement in 2007 for the creation of the new court, and said while he’s disappointed in the judge’s alleged hypocrisy, he said not everyone will always be happy about the way a judge rules on their case.

Judge Hunter returned a call to Indiana Lawyer and said he regrets the situation and damage to the court’s reputation, but that he didn’t want to go into specifics about this issue or even talk more generally about his handling of pro se litigants or people in his court. He cited some concern about judicial conduct rules prohibiting him from speaking about these issues.

In Marion County, Superior Judge William E. Young faces scrutiny because of his behavior on the bench and the way he runs his courtroom.

A federal lawsuit filed late last year accused the Criminal 13 judge of instituting a policy allowing defendants who come before his court and are found guilty to be fined up to an additional $500 just for challenging their tickets. That suit also detailed how the judge closes proceedings to the public.

That case prompted outrage from the General Assembly. Legislators approved state statute changes, supported by Gov. Mitch Daniels, addressing what happened in Judge Young’s courtroom. Enrolled Act 399 took effect in July and set a series of maximum fines within the $500 limit for moving violations that are Class C infractions, including speeding in regular zones and violations at stop signs and lights. The law now takes into account a person’s history of contesting tickets, and it will allow higher fines depending on a person’s record of unsuccessful attempts on fighting tickets in court.

In addition to the statutory revisions, a disciplinary action was also filed against Judge Young relating to his professional conduct.

In a seven-page charging document issued July 16, the Indiana Commission on Judicial Qualifications formally outlined four misconduct allegations against the judge, who at that point had already been publicly criticized, sued, and even reversed by the state justices for his handling of traffic court cases that had come before him since he took the bench in January 2009.

The commission alleges he “engaged in a practice of imposing substantially higher penalties against traffic court litigants who chose to have trials and lost,” and the commission also alleges that Judge Young “routinely made statements implying that litigants should not demand trials and would be penalized for doing so if they lost.”

The Indiana Supreme Court reversed one of Young’s decisions in June and ordered a new trial in the case of Hollinsworth v. State, No. 49S02-1006-CR-286, pointing specifically to Judge Young’s behavior that violated three judicial conduct canons requiring impartiality, patience, unbiased behavior, and recusal if a judge’s impartiality might be questioned. While that ruling indicated that Judge Young fell short of meeting the conduct standards, it didn’t go into any potential disciplinary matters – that came later in the year. Now, the Marion County judge faces a disciplinary hearing on those accusations in early December. A hearing panel will decide if he committed any misconduct and send a report to the state justices to review for a final decision.

Most recently, the judge has gotten the attention of the Indiana Court of Appeals and been reversed twice because of his conduct and the forms given out to pro se litigants in his court.

In two cases from August, the appellate court found the forms were unhelpful to litigants and should be examined more closely. An Aug. 25 memorandum decision was issued in Uma D. Chaluvadi v. City of Indianapolis, a case involving the appeal of Judge Young’s motion to set aside a default judgment relating to a speeding ticket Uma D. Chaluvadi received in November 2009. A police officer cited her for driving too fast in a school zone, but then crossed out the amount owed and Chaluvadi assumed it was a warning because no fine had been assessed. When she left the country and didn’t contact the court, a default judgment was entered against her and her license was suspended. She asked for the judgment to be set aside, but Judge Young dismissed that the next day.

The Court of Appeals reversed and remanded the case, finding that the judge should have allowed the default judgment to be set aside on grounds of Chaluvadi’s excusable neglect because of her initial conclusion about the ticket. While recognizing that she didn’t include a meritorious defense as required, the appellate court also found that the traffic court’s forms for litigants were inadequate.
 

baker-john-g-mug Baker

“We note, however, that the form provided by the trial court for litigants seeking to set aside a default judgment is entirely unhelpful to those litigants, inasmuch as it does not emphasize the need to provide a meritorious defense,” Chief Judge John Baker wrote, referring to the reason the trial judge had denied her motion and that the form only provided a couple of lines for such a defense to be supplied.

The appellate court inferred what the woman’s meritorious defense might be in this situation and found that it would be reason to set aside the default judgment.

Two days after the traffic court condemnation, the court in Michael Butler v. City of Indianapolis even more strongly criticized Judge Young’s court and the forms used in another pro se case involving a truck driver accused of speeding and driving his vehicle in a restricted area. The case brought up similar issues, and the appellate panel addressed the procedural issues that it found most concerning about Judge Young’s court: The inadequate form and a requirement for a self-addressed stamped envelop that Judge Mark Bailey found doesn’t exist according to the Indiana rule listed on the local trial court form.

“We strongly suggest that the trial court update this form for the benefit of future litigants,” he wrote in a footnote.


ogden-paul-mug Ogden

Judge Young did not return messages from Indiana Lawyer seeking comment for this story and could not be reached at his court prior to taking the bench. Attorneys who practice in his court say that litigants who’ve appeared before Judge Young and later called their law offices about the issues have been outraged and shocked by how they were treated. Not much has changed in the past year, they said.

“This all has a traumatic impact on people who just expect to get their day in court, but instead are treated very poorly,” said Indianapolis attorney Paul Ogden, who represented the plaintiffs who sued the traffic court earlier this year. “People who go into that court, this is their first brush with the court system and they came out fearing it. They’re treated rudely, told by court staff they don’t care, that 99 percent of the time the court finds for police. And that if you argue your case and don’t win the fine won’t be $150 but $550.”

Ogden said he’s pleased about the law changes this year, but he hopes more will change and the traffic court will reform how it treats people.

“People are very intimidated by that court,” he said. “That gives a black eye to our entire legal process.”

Judge Gregory says the Johnson County Bar Association and his own court staff have been concerned with those two situations and the impact on the judiciary. The judge said that he tries to always give people as much guidance as he can, but admittedly it can be difficult in a court with that much traffic each day. One day recently, the judge said he had 94 cases set that morning and only a dozen may have attorneys.

“There’s pressure to keep things moving, but you also have to make sure each person leaves with an understanding of what’s happening and their rights in this system,” he said. “It’s a difficult balancing act, and you can lose track of the fact that many of these people may not understand. But we do our best to provide that lubrication for the system and prepare people for what happens in our courtrooms.”•

ADVERTISEMENT

  • TRUTH
    The courts are not even allowed to hear cases that don't involve a demonstrable injury directly related to the actions of the defendant. I didn't see one mention about that is this article.
  • driving licences being suspended due to accesive tickets in aperiod of a few days
    I have some concerns regarding some of the same issues on some of my situations i was incarcerated and proved to the court system that i was incarcerated with the prooper paper work and ask the court to either set aside this judgment or dismiss the tickets and i was denied immeditly and even one of the clerks thought it was veryily strange they denied it that quick and didnt look into my situation i feel that this was unfair and i would like this looked into.

Post a comment to this story

COMMENTS POLICY
We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
 
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
 
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in Indiana Lawyer editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
 
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
 
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.
 

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by

facebook - twitter on Facebook & Twitter

Indiana State Bar Association

Indianapolis Bar Association

Evansville Bar Association

Allen County Bar Association

Indiana Lawyer on Facebook

facebook
ADVERTISEMENT
Subscribe to Indiana Lawyer
  1. This guy sounds like the classic molester/manipulator.

  2. Louis D. Brandeis was born in 1856. At 9 years of age it would have been 1865. The Brandeis family did not own slaves. My source Louis D. Brandeis: A Life, by Melvin L. Urofsky.

  3. My name is Matthew Lucas Major, I recently went through a jury trial in Bloomington , In. It was the week of Feb 19-21. Although I have been incarcerated since August 5, 2014. The reason I 'am writing to you sir is on the 21 of February the jury came in with a very excessive and wrongful verdict of guilty on 6 child molesting charges against my daughter who was 9 at the time I was accused. I also had 2 other Felonies one of Intimidation and 1 of Sexual Vicarious Gratification. Judge Marc Kellam on the second day of trial gave me a not guilty on those 2 felonies. The jury was sent out during that time and when brought back Judge Kellam told them to not concern themselves with the 2 Felonies that he ruled on them. They were told to not let evidence they had already heard influence there verdicts. I never in my life touched any child sexually and definitely not with my own daughter. When I was arrested Detective Shawn Karr told me I would be convicted guilty just on my daughters word even without evidence. That's just what happened. my public defender did me so wrong he never once proved to the court and jury all the lies the child told, and Jeremy Noel my public defender could of proven the lies easily. The stories in Serenity's depositions and Forensic interview changed and were not consistent as Prosecutor Darcie Fawcett claimed they were. Yet my attorney never mentioned that. The facts that the child accused me of full penetration in her vagina and rectum was proven lies. Doctor Roberta Hibbard of Riley hospital in Indianapolis confirmed Serenity's hymen intact, no scars, no tearing, no signs of rape to her. Yet my attorney didn't use that knowledge . the DNA was all in my favor. I tell you I will spend my entire life in prison going through rape and beatings etc. even Judge Kellam abused his authority by telling the jurors to listen and believe what the prosecutors side in evidence like my daughters testimony. In one interview with the detectives my daughter got flustered with her mom and said on camera " I'm saying what you told me to mom"!! Yet Mr. Noel said nor did anything to even resemble a defense attorney. Judge Kellam allowed edited version of a taped conversation between the child and her mother. Also Judge Kellam allowed the Prosecutor too bring in to my case a knife found under my seat, the knife wasn't part of my case. She was allowed by my attorney and the judge to put a huge picture of it on the screen and huge picture of my naked privates in a full courtroom and open court. Ms. Fawcett says to jury see how easy Mr. Major could reach the knife and cut his Childs throat. Even though I had no weapons charge against these cases. This gave the jurors prejudice thought against me thinking I threatened her with that knife and how scared she would of been knowing i could get it and kill her. On my sentencing court March 19, 2014 my public defender told Judge Kellam he wish to resign from being my attorney and wished for the court to give me outside council to file a error to trial or appeal. We were denied. Now after openly knowing my public defender don't want to represent me he has to. Well when as parents we make our kids clean a room when they really don't wish to, well the child will but don't mean she will do a good job, that's where I'm at with Mr. Noel. please dont ignore mine and my families pleas for your help . we have all the legal proof you could need to prove Im innocent. Please dont make my spend years in prison innocent when you can fix this wrong. Im not saying Im a perfect man or that I was a perfect dad to my 2 children none of us are. Ive made some bad choices in life and I paid for them. But I didnt ever touch or rape my daughter . I love my children with all my heart. And now through needing attention and a ex-wife who told my granny several times she wish she could put me in prison to get me out of their lives. Well my ex finally accomplished her goal. Sad part is she is destroying our daughter with all this horrific lies and things she taught my daughter to say. My daughter will need therapist to ever hope for a chance of a normal life after what she had done to her by her mom and their side of the family. My daughter told everyone even on stand she had a dream months before i supposedly molested her in this dream I was molesting her and when I finally did it matched her dream perfectly. She admitted to watching movies about little girls being molested and watching U-Tube videos about child molesting all before it happened supposedly to her. Doesn't that sound very unusual that a non molested 9 yr old would need to know so much about being molested? The only reason I could think a 9 year old would need so much information is to be prepared to know what to say and be able to say how it felt what took place etc.. So when questioned by authorities she would be prepared. And there again sir if a parent is pre grooming a 9 year old child she would need intimate details . Like telling her daughter about a couple moles on my private area. The child admitted to sneaking my cell and looking many many times at nudes of me and my girlfriend even one where my penis was entering my girlfriends vagina. In that picture my moles are obvious. Yet when prosecutor showed everyone in court my privates and pictures of the moles she said the only way the child would know about them is if she saw them for herself. My attorney once again said nothing about the pictures my child saw. Or could a ex-wife be able to describe my moles to help her case against getting rid of me? I beg you help me. This is my very existence. Ive lost everything , a good job, a wonderful girlfriend, my freedom, but worse thing Ive lost is my children. They were my reason to get up every morning and strive to be better. The wonderful bond I had with my Serenity is gone. After this I would be afraid to even hug her for fear of what next can they do to me. I'm not afraid to tell you I sit here in this cell and try to hold back my tears. Everyone knows you cant show weakness in prison. My life has already been threatened here at Wabash Valley Prison. After only 3 days of arrival. I was tricked into signing a waiver now Im in G Block General Population with 6 child molesting felony charges. Mrs. Hart as a 18 year old I almost died hooked to machines in hospital almost 1 month and now I know that fear was childish compared to this . I cant help but put emotions in this, after all Mrs. Hart Im human and God help Me I never been more afraid in my life. I didnt hurt my little girl I didnt touch her sexually. As much as it shreds me and fills my mind what Im facing I worry more about my mom and granny because of their great love for me mam they are suffering so deeply. I aint done this things but my loved ones suffering right along beside me and If you take my case you will be in essence freeing them also. I sent momma this letter and asked her to email it to you. I'm scared I have been done so unjustly by our legal system and I need you to fix this and give me freedom. I ask you please don't just ignore my pleas. Here in America its nice to be able to trust our legal justice system, well they destroyed my and my loved ones trust in our justice system . And I'm trusting in You !!! My entire family is suffering this nightmare with me. My 77 year old granny had a stroke and isn't doing so well. My single mother that raised 3 kids alone is dying from Lupus and since my arrest has stayed so sick and weary. Our lives torn to peices by a government I was taught I could trust in. my momma has tried so many innocent project and wrongfully accused and cant get anywhere. please please help me. A quote from the late Nelson Mandela: To be free is not merely to cast off ones chains, But to live in a way that respects and enhances The Freedom Of Others. I have Faith in you and your clinic to cast my chains off and give me freedom I do deserve as a wrongfully accused Man, son, brother, father, friend. Matthew Major DOC# 246179 Cause # : 53c02-1308-FA-000779 God Bless you. Please contact me with your decision so I know you made a life changing decision for me , just please at least write me so I know you care enough about your citizens to respond to cries for your help. You can speak openly with my mother Charlotte Spain (828) 476-0406: 71 Lakeview Dr. Canton, NC 28716 Thank You Matthew Major I know yall get thousands of request and inmates claiming innocence, and each person who are innocent deserve to have organizations like yours willing to fight for them and I give yall so much Thanks and I thank God everyday yall are out there caring enough to help free the innocents. Since discovering firsthand how easily lives and families can be destroyed by Poor Defense attorneys not doing their job . And Prosecutors allowed to do as they please in court

  4. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  5. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

ADVERTISEMENT