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Judges disagree on whether use of names or initials is appropriate

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A clear divide exists at the Indiana Court of Appeals these days and is anything but confidential. Judges are debating whether parties’ names on certain cases should be released publicly or be shielded through use of initials only.

Recent rulings from separate three-judge panels have analyzed whether state statute requires the names of individuals and businesses in workforce development cases to be withheld in published opinions and on the appellate docket.

The legal community takes an interest in the varying rationale because that uncertainty influences how lawyers advise parties on what might happen during the appeals process.

“This agreement affects a very small percentage of appeals dealing with workforce development cases, but it may be very important to some of those litigants,” said Indiana University School of Law – Indianapolis professor Joel Schumm. “It also raises broader questions about which parties and people are entitled to anonymity on appeal and which ones must have their names used. Opinions are now easily accessible through the Web, which means the first thing someone doing a Google search might discover about a person may come from an appellate opinion.”

The court’s debate centers on the gaps between state statute and appellate court rules. Indiana Code 22-4-19-6(b) says that “the records of the department relating to the unemployment tax or the payment of benefits is confidential and may not be published or be open to public inspection in any manner revealing the individual’s or the employing unit’s identity.” A statutory exception exists for court orders, and Administrative Rule 9(G)(4)(d) says that although the appellate courts “should endeavor to exclude the names of parties and affected persons, and any other matters excluded from public access,” they may disclose names “as essential to the resolution of litigation or appropriate to further the establishment of precedent or the development of the law.”
 

baker-john-g-mug Baker

On Aug. 12, Judge John Baker wrote for a unanimous panel made up of Judges Jim Kirsch and Elaine Brown in the case of LaDon A. Moore v. Review Board of the Indiana Department of Workforce Development and Whitington Homes and Services, No. 93A02-1005-EX-529. He wrote that the full names of parties should be published because state statute doesn’t require those to be kept confidential in public court records.

The case involved a woman who worked at a Fort Wayne social services agency for family and children and was appealing her termination, and the workforce development review board agreed with the administrative law judge’s finding that she was properly discharged. During the course of the appeal, the review board filed a motion to publish the names of the parties not only in this specific case but also all future cases that workforce development appeals. Specifically, the review board contends that it’s difficult to administer the high volume of cases in the appellate system where the people’s names and employing units are not disclosed, and that it’s too inefficient and time-consuming to rely on cause numbers through the appellate clerk’s online docket.

“The Review Board contends that although Indiana Code section 22-4-19-6 protects unemployment records from public access and from use while that information resides with the Department, the names of individuals and employing units need not be kept confidential in actions involving the court system in an otherwise public proceeding. We agree,” Judge Baker wrote.

Looking at the state statute that’s been mostly unchanged since 1947, the appeals court noted that the initials-only practice began following Jan. 1, 2010, amendments to Administrative Rule 9(G) that governs public access to court records. The court rule incorporated a reference to I.C. 22-4-19-6, and the opinion states that as of that time 16 reported cases involving the review board have come from the Court of Appeals – four used the person’s full name. This amendment has led some to believe the courts are now required to keep the names of parties confidential on appeal, while others disagree.

Initials only can make it more difficult for legal searches on precedent and make cases virtually indistinguishable, the court determined.

Judge Baker wrote, “With that in mind, reading the authority granted by Administrative Rule 9(G)(9)(d) together with section 22-3-19-6(b)’s exception for court orders and considering the Review Board’s interpretation of its own obligations under the statute as well as the interpretation of the statutes by the Indiana Supreme Court and this Court in countless cases for over sixty years, we believe it is appropriate for this Court to use the full names of parties in routine appeals from the Review Board.”

But within two weeks, a second opinion came down presenting the other side of the debate on a different case, S.S. LLC v. Review Board, 93A02-1101-EX-56. Judge Terry Crone wrote a concurring opinion delving into the issue of name confidentiality and questioning the wisdom of using full names.

“Our Court has recently debated the use of names instead of initials in Review Board cases and has been unable to reach a consensus,” he wrote. “I have no position on the propriety of or wisdom behind the rule as written, but I believe that we must follow it until such a time as it is repealed by our supreme court. I would encourage our supreme court to visit the issue by court opinion or rule change to give proper guidance in and finality to this matter.”


crone-terry-mug Crone

Specifically, Judge Crone noted that the L.M. decision to publish full names is contrary to law. He pointed out how in 2009, when Judge Baker served as chief judge, he’d requested the Supreme Court adopt the administrative rule requiring confidentiality.

“It is difficult to discern how the author of the letter requiring the adoption of Adm. Rule 9(G)(1)(b)(xviii) also could have authored L.M., which ignores the existence of that letter and contracts its content.”

Judge Crone wrote that the state statute being discussed only applies to the agency and not the court, while the court rule does apply and therefore the names should be confidential. He also dismissed the idea that cases are virtually indistinguishable from one another as far as captions are concerned, and noted that they are easily searchable online. Those “minor annoyances” aren’t sufficient grounds to disregard a rule from the Supreme Court, he pointed out, and disclosing those names is not essential to the resolution of litigation or in establishing precedent.

On Sept. 7, Chief Judge Margret Robb wrote a footnote in the not-for-publication case of K.T. v. Review Board and F.C.I, No. 93A02-1101-EX-75, echoing her support of publicizing full names based on the same rationale Judge Baker had written about a month earlier. She wrote that her colleagues on that panel, Judges Michael Barnes and Cale Bradford, aren’t persuaded that court rules and statute allow for the use of names.

In the S.S. decision, Judge Crone noted that the appellate clerk agrees with that interpretation by using the caption “Company v. Review Board” on the online docket. Judge Crone encourages the justices to revisit the issue by court opinion or rule change to provide proper guidance, and that is something that Schumm agrees should happen because this issue has the potential to come up in other types of cases, such as parental custody cases.

“The same rules on anonymity should apply consistently to litigants and not vary based on the panel they happen to draw,” Schumm said.

But Justice Brent Dickson, chair of the Records Management Committee, said that isn’t likely after the panel discussed the issue earlier this year and decided not to take action.

If the issue comes up in an appeal, the court could address it in that manner, he said, but Justice Dickson doesn’t foresee the committee or justices going beyond that.

“We did discuss it and felt that this is governed by statute that clearly declares what is confidential,” he said about the committee action. “We respect what the Legislature has done and abide by that, and even with the legitimate concerns expressed by the Court of Appeals, we would prefer that any internal debate be handled at that level.”•

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  1. "So we broke with England for the right to "off" our preborn progeny at will, and allow the processing plant doing the dirty deeds (dirt cheap) to profit on the marketing of those "products of conception." I was completely maleducated on our nation's founding, it would seem. (But I know the ACLU is hard at work to remedy that, too.)" Well, you know, we're just following in the footsteps of our founders who raped women, raped slaves, raped children, maimed immigrants, sold children, stole property, broke promises, broke apart families, killed natives... You know, good God fearing down home Christian folk! :/

  2. Who gives a rats behind about all the fluffy ranking nonsense. What students having to pay off debt need to know is that all schools aren't created equal and students from many schools don't have a snowball's chance of getting a decent paying job straight out of law school. Their lowly ranked lawschool won't tell them that though. When schools start honestly (accurately) reporting *those numbers, things will get interesting real quick, and the looks on student's faces will be priceless!

  3. Whilst it may be true that Judges and Justices enjoy such freedom of time and effort, it certainly does not hold true for the average working person. To say that one must 1) take a day or a half day off work every 3 months, 2) gather a list of information including recent photographs, and 3) set up a time that is convenient for the local sheriff or other such office to complete the registry is more than a bit near-sighted. This may be procedural, and hence, in the near-sighted minds of the court, not 'punishment,' but it is in fact 'punishment.' The local sheriffs probably feel a little punished too by the overwork. Registries serve to punish the offender whilst simultaneously providing the public at large with a false sense of security. The false sense of security is dangerous to the public who may not exercise due diligence by thinking there are no offenders in their locale. In fact, the registry only informs them of those who have been convicted.

  4. Unfortunately, the court doesn't understand the difference between ebidta and adjusted ebidta as they clearly got the ruling wrong based on their misunderstanding

  5. A common refrain in the comments on this website comes from people who cannot locate attorneys willing put justice over retainers. At the same time the judiciary threatens to make pro bono work mandatory, seemingly noting the same concern. But what happens to attorneys who have the chumptzah to threatened the legal status quo in Indiana? Ask Gary Welch, ask Paul Ogden, ask me. Speak truth to power, suffer horrendously accordingly. No wonder Hoosier attorneys who want to keep in good graces merely chase the dollars ... the powers that be have no concerns as to those who are ever for sale to the highest bidder ... for those even willing to compromise for $$$ never allow either justice or constitutionality to cause them to stand up to injustice or unconstitutionality. And the bad apples in the Hoosier barrel, like this one, just keep rotting.

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