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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. I grew up on a farm and live in the county and it's interesting that the big industrial farmers like Jeff Shoaf don't live next to their industrial operations...

  2. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  3. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  4. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  5. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

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