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Justices split over IHSAA athlete eligibility ruling

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Indiana’s justices couldn’t agree on whether they should even rule on a case involving an athlete’s eligibility in high school when the girl is now playing college basketball.

Justices Brent Dickson and Robert Rucker argued in Indiana High School Athletic Association v. Jasmine S. Watson, No. 71S03-1002-CV-119, that the Indiana Supreme Court should dismiss the appeal because athlete Jasmine Watson has graduated from high school. They also pointed to recent legislation that requires challenges to Indiana High School Athletic Association eligibility rulings to be decided by an independent case review panel.

“A majority of this Court prefers not only to take jurisdiction but also to apply this Court‘s recent decisions that virtually immunize IHSAA decisions from meaningful judicial review. I strongly disagree,” wrote Justice Dickson in his dissent. “The IHSAA‘s rules and enforcement practices impinge upon parental authority and responsibility to select the schools most appropriate for the interests and talents of their children.”

Watson played basketball and ran track at Elkhart Memorial High School and sought a transfer to play on South Bend Washington High School’s teams after her family moved to South Bend. Watson was being recruited by an Amateur Athletic Union coach to transfer so she would be able to compete for a high school championship. Her mother also had her work-hours reduced and her home entered foreclosure, so she wanted to move to South Bend to be closer to family.

Elkhart Memorial refused to approve her transfer, arguing she moved primarily for athletic reasons. The IHSAA assistant commissioner and a review committee found her to be ineligible. The review committee cited Elkhart Memorial’s coach’s descriptions of conversations he had with other coaches and his players regarding Watson’s comments about transferring. The IHSAA also found her family’s economic hardships weren’t the primary reason her family moved as Watson’s mother sought a rental home in South Bend before looking in Elkhart and claimed to not find anything affordable or suitable in Elkhart.

Watson’s mom sued on her behalf and the trial court granted a preliminary injunction preventing the IHSAA from enforcing its decision. The trial judge found the IHSAA disregarded evidence, and that it relied on hearsay statements. A split Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed.

The majority on the Supreme Court reversed the trial court and agreed with the Court of Appeals’ reasons as to why the appeal isn’t moot: if the IHSAA wins, then it could make Washington High School forfeit victories and money and the IHSAA has filed a counterclaim against the Watsons for damages, which hasn’t been resolved. Plus, the issues of families relocating because of financial issues will mostly likely come up again.

The majority disagreed with the trial court that the IHSAA’s decision was arbitrary and capricious. The trial court often pointed out the IHSAA’s version of events heavily relied on hearsay, but the Supreme Court has held that agency decisions may be based in part on hearsay, wrote Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard.

“Rather than inquiring whether substantial evidence existed to support the ruling, the court substituted its own judgment for the IHSAA’s. It rejected the IHSAA’s assessment of several witnesses, concluded that the IHSAA incorrectly assessed evidence contrary to the ruling, and improperly discredited virtually all hearsay evidence,” he wrote.

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  1. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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