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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. People have heard of Magna Carta, and not the Provisions of Oxford & Westminster. Not that anybody really cares. Today, it might be considered ethnic or racial bias to talk about the "Anglo Saxon common law." I don't even see the word English in the blurb above. Anyhow speaking of Edward I-- he was famously intolerant of diversity himself viz the Edict of Expulsion 1290. So all he did too like making parliament a permanent institution-- that all must be discredited. 100 years from now such commemorations will be in the dustbin of history.

  2. Oops, I meant discipline, not disciple. Interesting that those words share such a close relationship. We attorneys are to be disciples of the law, being disciplined to serve the law and its source, the constitutions. Do that, and the goals of Magna Carta are advanced. Do that not and Magna Carta is usurped. Do that not and you should be disciplined. Do that and you should be counted a good disciple. My experiences, once again, do not reveal a process that is adhering to the due process ideals of Magna Carta. Just the opposite, in fact. Braveheart's dying rebel (for a great cause) yell comes to mind.

  3. It is not a sign of the times that many Ind licensed attorneys (I am not) would fear writing what I wrote below, even if they had experiences to back it up. Let's take a minute to thank God for the brave Baron's who risked death by torture to tell the government that it was in the wrong. Today is a career ruination that whistleblowers risk. That is often brought on by denial of licenses or disciple for those who dare speak truth to power. Magna Carta says truth rules power, power too often claims that truth matters not, only Power. Fight such power for the good of our constitutional republics. If we lose them we have only bureaucratic tyranny to pass onto our children. Government attorneys, of all lawyers, should best realize this and work to see our patrimony preserved. I am now a government attorney (once again) in Kansas, and respecting the rule of law is my passion, first and foremost.

  4. I have dealt with more than a few I-465 moat-protected government attorneys and even judges who just cannot seem to wrap their heads around the core of this 800 year old document. I guess monarchial privileges and powers corrupt still ..... from an academic website on this fantastic "treaty" between the King and the people ... "Enduring Principles of Liberty Magna Carta was written by a group of 13th-century barons to protect their rights and property against a tyrannical king. There are two principles expressed in Magna Carta that resonate to this day: "No freeman shall be taken, imprisoned, disseised, outlawed, banished, or in any way destroyed, nor will We proceed against or prosecute him, except by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land." "To no one will We sell, to no one will We deny or delay, right or justice." Inspiration for Americans During the American Revolution, Magna Carta served to inspire and justify action in liberty’s defense. The colonists believed they were entitled to the same rights as Englishmen, rights guaranteed in Magna Carta. They embedded those rights into the laws of their states and later into the Constitution and Bill of Rights. The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution ("no person shall . . . be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.") is a direct descendent of Magna Carta's guarantee of proceedings according to the "law of the land." http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/featured_documents/magna_carta/

  5. I'm not sure what's more depressing: the fact that people would pay $35,000 per year to attend an unaccredited law school, or the fact that the same people "are hanging in there and willing to follow the dean’s lead in going forward" after the same school fails to gain accreditation, rendering their $70,000 and counting education worthless. Maybe it's a good thing these people can't sit for the bar.

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