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Judge-backed court staff attorney pilot program bill moves out of committee

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Legislation that would create a pilot program administered by the Indiana Judicial Center to assist trial courts when preparing and writing certain motions moved out of the House Committee on Courts and Criminal Code 11-0.

House Bill 1411, authored by Rep. Tom Washburne (R-Evansville) establishes the two-year pilot Circuit Court and Superior Court Staff Attorney Pilot Program. The bill calls for the program to be created and facilitated by the Indiana Judicial Center, which will report to the Commission on Courts for possible implementation statewide after the initial test period.

Jane Seigel, executive director of the Indiana Judicial Center, testified in support of the bill, as did former Indiana Chief Justice Randall Shepard. The Indiana Judges Association, Indiana Chamber of Commerce and the Indiana Manufacturers Association also support the legislation.

Seigel told Indiana Lawyer Thursday the Indiana Judicial Center is dedicated to helping trial judges across the state and this is an additional tool that can be implemented to help the courts.

The pilot program under the introduced legislation would make IJC staff attorneys – which are defined as an attorney, senior judge or third-year law student - available to judges to help prepare orders granting or denying dispositive motions. The language was amended in committee to replace “dispositve” with “complex” based on a suggestion from Rep. Ed DeLaney, D-Indianapolis, who signed on as a co-author.

The legislation is written broadly enough to leave a lot of the program details – including what kinds of cases falls under “complex” – up to the IJC, Washburne said. He thinks that some lawsuits are filed in some jurisdictions where there’s a perception the party can “blow that lawsuit by the judge” as the judge doesn’t have time to deal with motions to dismiss or for summary judgment and the case proceeds perhaps farther than necessary based on the law.

“Because judges don’t have many resources, a lot of those get through and cause a lot of problems for defendants,” he said. “Ultimately, having more resources will cut back on frivolous filings.”

A party in an action where the pilot is running may ask the court to have a staff attorney from the pilot program to assist the court in preparing a judicial opinion that explains the reasons for granting or denying the motion. A judge may also request the assistance of an IJC attorney.

The idea for this legislation came from Washburne, vice president and associate counsel for Old National Bancorp in Evansville, based on his experience managing litigation for the bank and his time as a law clerk for U.S. Judge S. Hugh Dillin.

Trial judges have high workloads but don’t have the same available resources as the federal courts do in writing decisions. Washburne said some judges have told him if they want to do real writing, they have to take it home. The pilot project attorneys can act as law clerks for trial judges.

The pilot program will be established in at least five counties: two with a population of less than 50,000; two with a population between 50,000 and 200,000; and one county with at least 200,000 residents.

In 2011, the number of cases disposed by a bench disposition – including dispositive motions – ranged between seven percent for civil torts to 18 percent for civil plenary cases, according to the fiscal impact statement for the legislation. The idea is this bill will help parties avoid lengthy litigation, and if state or local units of government are involved, would help reduce their costs of litigation.

The bill will be eligible for second reading next week in the House.

 

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  1. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  2. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  3. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  4. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

  5. I am compelled to announce that I am not posting under any Smith monikers here. That said, the post below does have a certain ring to it that sounds familiar to me: http://www.catholicnewworld.com/cnwonline/2014/0907/cardinal.aspx

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