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Lawmakers criticize traffic court fines

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A legislative committee this week unanimously approved a bill that would cap the fines a court could assess for traffic violations. In doing so, several lawmakers expressed outrage and urged the Indiana Supreme Court to investigate fining practices of a Marion County traffic court judge that have led to a federal lawsuit.

But an even broader issue raised by Senate Bill 399 is how the state's trial courts are funded, a topic that ties two other pieces of legislation to the same debate playing out before the Indiana General Assembly this session. Questions have arisen in various committee meetings about the practice of court judgments being directly tied to revenue brought in from infractions, and whether that interferes with the judiciary's role in providing litigants a fair day in court.

On one hand, SB 399 would apply to the roughly 130 Class C infractions statewide. Fines would be capped; however, the fines could be increased within the cap if a person challenged previous tickets unsuccessfully. During the House Courts and Criminal Code Committee meeting Wednesday, members expressed their concern about the policy in Marion Superior Judge William E. Young's courtroom. Committee chair Matt Pierce, D-Indianapolis, said he would write a letter to Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard asking for an investigation.

This legislation came from Sen. Mike Young, R-Indianapolis, who filed it specifically on the heels of a December class-action lawsuit challenging the fines being imposed by Judge Young, who's presided over the county's traffic court in Marion Criminal 13 since January 2009. Plaintiffs allege they were penalized for simply taking their cases before the judge, with total costs running more than three times what it would have cost them to accept and pay the citation. The case is Toshiano Ishii, Matthew Stone, and Adam Lenkowsky v. Marion County Superior Court No. 13, The Hon. William E. Young, and the City of Indianapolis, No. 1:09-CV-1509.

Indianapolis attorney Paul Ogden, the attorney in the federal case, attended the hearing and said he was impressed at the legislators' reactions to what was happening in the traffic court. "They were very angry and upset about what's going on," he said. "We expect this to pass the House ... the only possible hitch might be if the House decides it does have a fiscal impact and sends it back to the Ways and Means Committee after the deadline has passed. That could mistakenly kill the bill."

While Young's bill involving the traffic court weaves through the process, lawmakers are also considering two other bills that tie into that issue - HB 1154 that would impose a minimum $35 fee on traffic infractions to pay for the conversion of Marion County commissioners to magistrates; and SB 307 that would allow a $50 fee on Bartholomew County traffic infractions to pay for a new Superior Court there.

The Senate Appropriations Committee today passed the magistrates bill, while the House Judiciary earlier in the week unanimously approved the Bartholomew County bill and forwarded it to the full House for consideration.

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  1. Future generations will be amazed that we prosecuted people for possessing a harmless plant. The New York Times came out in favor of legalization in Saturday's edition of the newspaper.

  2. Well, maybe it's because they are unelected, and, they have a tendency to strike down laws by elected officials from all over the country. When you have been taught that "Democracy" is something almost sacred, then, you will have a tendency to frown on such imperious conduct. Lawyers get acculturated in law school into thinking that this is the very essence of high minded government, but to people who are more heavily than King George ever did, they may not like it. Thanks for the information.

  3. I pd for a bankruptcy years ago with Mr Stiles and just this week received a garnishment from my pay! He never filed it even though he told me he would! Don't let this guy practice law ever again!!!

  4. Excellent initiative on the part of the AG. Thankfully someone takes action against predators taking advantage of people who have already been through the wringer. Well done!

  5. Conour will never turn these funds over to his defrauded clients. He tearfully told the court, and his daughters dutifully pledged in interviews, that his first priority is to repay every dime of the money he stole from his clients. Judge Young bought it, much to the chagrin of Conour’s victims. Why would Conour need the $2,262 anyway? Taxpayers are now supporting him, paying for his housing, utilities, food, healthcare, and clothing. If Conour puts the money anywhere but in the restitution fund, he’s proved, once again, what a con artist he continues to be and that he has never had any intention of repaying his clients. Judge Young will be proven wrong... again; Conour has no remorse and the Judge is one of the many conned.

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