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Judge orders refund of legislative fines

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The Democratic members of the Indiana House who faced fines for failing to attend sessions in protest of right-to-work legislation will be reimbursed any amount withheld in 2011, according to a ruling from Marion Superior Judge David Dreyer. The judge also ordered that any fines imposed this session may not be collected.

House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, fined the Democratic representatives who left the state during the 2011 legislative session and deducted the money from the legislators’ pay and per diem compensation. Rep. William Crawford, D-Indianapolis, filed the lawsuit challenging the legality of the fines being deducted from their pay. Bosma again fined House Democrats who walked out during the current legislative session in protest of right-to-work legislation.

Late last year, Dreyer ruled that the imposition of the fines is beyond the court’s subject matter jurisdiction, but the collection of the fines remained at issue. He decided Monday to order a permanent injunction for defendants – Indiana Auditor Tim Berry, Indiana House Principal Clerk M. Caroline Spotts and the state of Indiana – to return the money withheld from the plaintiffs during the 2011 session and refrain from withholding amounts for the 2012 session without compliance with applicable Indiana wage payment law.

The seizure of the plaintiffs’ pay violates the Indiana Wage Payment statutes and due process.

“The clearly determinative factor in this case is the extreme risk of an erroneous deprivation if no due process is afforded,” wrote Dreyer. “House members may be absent for a variety of reasons, not specifically for the purpose of obstructing legislative action. They should have, at a minimum, a fair opportunity to be heard and present evidence to justify their absence before denial of pay or imposition of any other penalty becomes effective.”

The Office of the Indiana Attorney General plans to appeal the permanent injunction, believing the disagreement over the collection of fines belongs in the legislative branch.

“The interruption that led to the recent legislative fines ended when session resumed and legislators now should work out among themselves whether to collect fines. We disagree with the trial court’s prolonging this internal dispute and the precedent it would establish, and we will respectfully ask a higher court to redirect the dispute promptly and conclusively to the place it belongs: the Legislature,” Attorney General Greg Zoeller said.

The Indiana Supreme Court will hear the state’s separate appeal of Dreyer’s Dec. 6 ruling that declined to dismiss the plaintiffs’ suit.

 

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