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Justices consider juvenile placements

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Indiana Lawyer Rehearing

The Indiana Supreme Court is considering a case where a St. Joseph County juvenile judge has declared unconstitutional three statutes involving child placements, a controversial issue that’s pitted many within the state judiciary against the Indiana Department of Child Services for the past two years.

With jurisdiction in The Matter of A.B., a Child Alleged to be a Delinquent, No. 71S00-1002-JV-00156, the state justices are asked to review the topic that first surfaced with last-minute legislative changes during the General Assembly’s special session in 2009. Lawmakers amended Indiana Code §31-37-19-3(f) to require DCS recommendation or approval for any out-of-state placement, or else the county must pay for that placement. The change came after the Indiana Supreme Court in April ruled against the state agency and gave more deference to juvenile judges in making placement decisions when there’s a dispute about who should pay. Taking its case directly to the General Assembly, the DCS asked lawmakers to tweak state statute and give it more control. Juvenile judges and many lawmakers were surprised about the change that came without public discussion, although attempts to repeal those statutes failed in the years since.

But St. Joseph Probate Judge Peter Nemeth – an outspoken advocate against the policy change – ruled in February on a juvenile delinquent case that the statutes are unconstitutional. The case involves a teenager who was originally placed in a South Bend facility, but escaped last year and was subsequently ordered for placement in Arizona. The DCS objected to that out-of-state placement decision by Judge Nemeth, and filed an appeal that fell under Appellate Rule 4(A)(1)(b) giving the high court exclusive jurisdiction over cases where statutes are deemed unconstitutional.

Specifically, the questions raised in the suit are: Does Article 3, Section 1 of the Indiana Constitution permit the General Assembly to require that courts get approval from the DCS for out-of-state placements?; whether the single-subject requirement of Article 4, Section 19 permits lawmakers from including the juvenile placement decision-making changes in a massive budget bill; and whether the DCS in-state placement recommendation in this case of A.B. was unreasonable based on the facts.

Briefs are being submitted in that case, and the local probation department has until Aug. 13 to file a response. The state agency filed a motion to dismiss in late June, but the justices hadn’t issued a decision on that by IL deadline.

Rehearing from "Bill seeks to repeal placement statute" IL Jan. 20-Feb. 2, 2010

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