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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. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  2. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  3. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

  4. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

  5. "No one is safe when the Legislature is in session."

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