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Judges differ in small claims court action

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The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed a trial court's decision that the plaintiff had standing to file a small claims notice against his bankruptcy attorney, but the judges disagreed on whether the court erred in denying the attorney's motion for a change of judge.

In Alfred McClure v. Jackie Cooper, No. 86A03-0801-CV-38, attorney Alfred McClure filed a verified motion to dismiss the claim for improper venue and a motion for change of judge. Jackie Cooper brought a small claims suit against McClure for a full refund of money he paid to McClure to represent him in a bankruptcy case.

Citing Hammes v. Brumley, 659 N.E.2d 1021, 1025-30 (Ind. 1995), the appellate court unanimously ruled Cooper had standing to bring his claim, even though he failed to disclose it in his notice of bankruptcy filing because a bankruptcy may be reopened so the debtor may remedy an error, wrote Judge L. Mark Bailey. The Court of Appeals remanded the case with instructions to notify the bankruptcy court and trustee of the trial court's judgment of this opinion.

The appellate court also unanimously agreed the trial court was correct in denying the change of venue motion by McClure. McClure had performed services for Cooper in Warren County, as required under their signed contract for legal services, which makes Warren County a proper venue for Cooper's claim, wrote the judge.

However, the judges did not agree on the dismissal by the trial court of McClure's motion for change of judge. Judges Bailey and Ezra Friedlander agreed with the trial court's decision, finding Trial Rule 76(C)(5) narrows the window of opportunity to seek a change of judge after a trial date has been set. Pursuant to this rule, a party has three days after receiving a notice from the court that a trial date had been set to file a motion for change of judge.

In essence, in small claims cases, a claim also serves to notify the litigants of the trial setting in small claims proceedings in addition to informing the parties of the date, time, court, and relevant documents to bring. Since McClure filed his motion after more than three days had passed after receiving the notice of the claim, the trial court was correct in denying his motion, wrote Judge Bailey.

Judge James Kirsch dissented, finding the trial rule doesn't apply to the instant case. The court didn't hold a hearing, it simply set the matter for trial. Judge Kirsch finds that T.R. 76(C)(5) requires that a party appear at or have a notice of a hearing, that the court at that hearing sets a matter for trial, and the trial date is promptly entered into the Chronological Case System. Because the trial setting wasn't made in course of the conduct of the hearing, he doesn't believe the rule applies.

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  1. For the record no one could answer the equal protection / substantive due process challenge I issued in the first post below. The lawless and accountable only to power bureaucrats never did either. All who interface with the Indiana law examiners or JLAP be warned.

  2. Hi there I really need help with getting my old divorce case back into court - I am still paying support on a 24 year old who has not been in school since age 16 - now living independent. My visitation with my 14 year old has never been modified; however, when convenient for her I can have him... I am paying past balance from over due support, yet earn several thousand dollars less. I would contact my original attorney but he basically molest me multiple times in Indy when I would visit.. Todd Woodmansee - I had just came out and had know idea what to do... I have heard he no longer practices. Please help1

  3. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  4. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

  5. Diversity is important, but with some limitations. For instance, diversity of experience is a great thing that can be very helpful in certain jobs or roles. Diversity of skin color is never important, ever, under any circumstance. To think that skin color changes one single thing about a person is patently racist and offensive. Likewise, diversity of values is useless. Some values are better than others. In the case of a supreme court justice, I actually think diversity is unimportant. The justices are not to impose their own beliefs on rulings, but need to apply the law to the facts in an objective manner.

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