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Lawyer's report sounds latest alarm about Marion County Small Claims courts

Dave Stafford
August 14, 2013
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Problems with Marion County’s Small Claims courts are by now well-documented. After the Wall Street Journal took note of forum shopping, creditors’ cozy relationships with some courts and other lax practices, Court of Appeals Judge John Baker and Senior Judge Betty Barteau issued a report advocating reform.

Jeffrey Boulden was familiar with such problems, having represented clients in those courts for years as a legal aid attorney. But he began noticing something he considered so egregious that he said he couldn’t ignore it: A company called Driver Solutions was getting default judgments in Warren Township Small Claims Court against out-of-state defendants who he said weren’t properly served notice they had been sued.

There were thousands of such judgments over a period of just over three years, he claims.

report-1col.jpg Attorney Jeffrey Boulden holds a copy of a report he compiled detailing alleged deficiencies in Driver Solutions cases filed in Franklin and Warren townships that he says should be voided. (IL Photo/ Dave Stafford

“Over a series of a couple of months in 2012, I discovered that Franklin Township was also entering default judgments without defendants being properly served,” Boulden said of the discovery that led him to pore over thousands of judgments, document his findings and provide a statistical analysis to key judges and state officials in the form of “The Poplicola Report on the Marion County Small Claims Courts.”

By Boulden’s count, Indianapolis-based Driver Solutions has filed more than 7,700 suits in Franklin and Warren townships, often winning judgments in excess of the $6,000 statutory cap.

The truck driving school’s financing contract stipulates that litigation will be filed in Marion County, even though the vast majority of defendants live outside the state. Boulden estimates about 3,200 default judgments against out-of-state defendants lacked proper notice and should be voided.

“This is a blight on the reputation of the courts, and it should be taken seriously,” he said. “It’s definitely the worst I’ve ever seen in terms of performance of the courts and an attorney.”

Based in Indianapolis, Driver Solutions LLC trains big-rig drivers at campuses here and around the country. In a period between 2008 and April 30, 2012, the company filed an average of six cases against trainees every business day in Franklin and Warren township courts, according figures provided by Boulden.

He said the company’s tuition of $5,995 is just below the small-claims cap, but its contracts also stipulate pre-judgment interest of 18 percent may be awarded on defaults.

“Anyone with whom I’ve shared the numbers is dumbfounded,” Boulden said. “Is this a school or a debt racket or a collection entity?”

In a statement, Driver Solutions CEO Michael Bankert said, “While we have not received a copy of the report in question, I am pleased with our commitment to providing career skills and employment opportunities within the trucking industry. In the past year alone, we have assisted over 4,000 individuals in obtaining gainful employment.”

Franklin Township Small Claims Judge John Kitley Jr. acknowledged a problem for part of 2011, but he said he doubts the number of faulty judgments is as high as Boulden asserts. Kitley said once he learned Driver Solutions attorney Brian Alsip was using delivery confirmation without signatures as a form of notice to out-of-state defendants, he put a stop to it. Kitley said he also forwarded a report about Alsip to the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission.

“I’ve never felt compelled to report an attorney,” Kitley said. “I felt compelled in this case. I felt like I’d been misled.” The judge said he relied on affidavits from Alsip swearing that defendants had been properly served in those cases. He sent 15 such affidavits to the commission in which he said he believed notice wasn’t properly served, but Alsip swore it was.

“I hope the Supreme Court (Disciplinary Commission), when they look at this, will investigate it and follow up on some of these files,” Kitley said. If it is determined notice wasn’t properly served, “I would hope they would order Driver Solutions to set aside those judgments.”

The Indiana attorney general’s office also is reviewing the report, according to a statement, but a spokesperson declined to confirm whether the report had led to an investigation.

Kitley and Warren Township Judge Garland Graves said they had instituted reforms in their courts after the Baker-Barteau report was issued, but Kitley said major reform is still needed. He backs the Baker-Barteau task force report’s suggestion that the township courts be incorporated into Marion Superior courts.

Graves said after the report was issued that he had seen it and was reviewing Driver Solutions cases filed after he took the bench in 2011. But he took issue with some of Boulden’s conclusions. “He never contacted me as a judge to address any concerns he may have,” Graves said.

Kitley said the fallout from the report has been tough. “I spent my entire career trying to set the standard of doing things as best as could possibly be done,” he said. “I’ve had many sleepless nights.”

Baker said after reviewing Boulden’s report, “It’s pretty sad. … This may well cover times before some significant changes were made, but I am frustrated that notwithstanding our efforts in getting the (task force) report out, there has been no reaction from the General Assembly.”

Marion Circuit Court Judge Louis Rosenberg oversees township small claims courts but said it’s hard to determine what might happen if default judgments are found to have followed improper service.

“If there are defects that should have been apparent by reviewing the file, the court must accept responsibility for that,” Rosenberg said when asked what could be done about judgments that may have resulted from improper service.

He later provided a more nuanced statement that read, in part: “Whether service was defective may be raised by a motion to set aside judgment per (Trial Rule) 60. … As for the court setting aside such judgments on its own motion, assuming that TR 60 permitted such action, the parties would have to be notified in advance and have the opportunity to present their respective positions.”

Kitley said he wasn’t troubled by the volume of claims from Driver Solutions. But he was concerned by what he described as a pattern of delay of many years before cases were filed. He said in most cases he recalled, the school would delay filing for two to three years or more, then ask for post-judgment interest of 18 percent on the unpaid balance.

“Do I have any proof whatsoever it was intentional? No,” he said. “That’s the only thing on those Driver Solutions cases I was really perplexed over.”

He said that while he doesn’t believe Driver Solutions is subject to the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act that requires a debt collector to bring suit where a defendant lives or where a contract was signed, he said he wasn’t fond of the clause requiring litigation in Marion County.

“I questioned that clause from a sense of fairness,” he said. In many of those cases where notice was received, he allowed out-of-state defendants to appear by phone. He said the clause was enforceable unless a defendant could show fraud, coercion, undue influence, or that the defendant didn’t understand it.

“I probably would not have enforced that contract if anyone had met that burden,” Kitley said. “But they didn’t.”•

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  1. Am I the only one who sees that the City is essentially giving away the MSA site AND giving millions to build new buildings on the site when this site would be the perfect place for the Justice Complex? Across from City-County, check; keeping it centrally located, check, etc. It's my understanding that the GM site must be purchased by the City from Motors Liquidation Company. STOP WASTING WHAT WE ALREADY HAVE AND OUR TAX DOLLARS! The Ballard Administration has not been known for it's common sense...never voted for him and never will!

  2. This guy sounds like the classic molester/manipulator.

  3. Louis D. Brandeis was born in 1856. At 9 years of age it would have been 1865. The Brandeis family did not own slaves. My source Louis D. Brandeis: A Life, by Melvin L. Urofsky.

  4. My name is Matthew Lucas Major, I recently went through a jury trial in Bloomington , In. It was the week of Feb 19-21. Although I have been incarcerated since August 5, 2014. The reason I 'am writing to you sir is on the 21 of February the jury came in with a very excessive and wrongful verdict of guilty on 6 child molesting charges against my daughter who was 9 at the time I was accused. I also had 2 other Felonies one of Intimidation and 1 of Sexual Vicarious Gratification. Judge Marc Kellam on the second day of trial gave me a not guilty on those 2 felonies. The jury was sent out during that time and when brought back Judge Kellam told them to not concern themselves with the 2 Felonies that he ruled on them. They were told to not let evidence they had already heard influence there verdicts. I never in my life touched any child sexually and definitely not with my own daughter. When I was arrested Detective Shawn Karr told me I would be convicted guilty just on my daughters word even without evidence. That's just what happened. my public defender did me so wrong he never once proved to the court and jury all the lies the child told, and Jeremy Noel my public defender could of proven the lies easily. The stories in Serenity's depositions and Forensic interview changed and were not consistent as Prosecutor Darcie Fawcett claimed they were. Yet my attorney never mentioned that. The facts that the child accused me of full penetration in her vagina and rectum was proven lies. Doctor Roberta Hibbard of Riley hospital in Indianapolis confirmed Serenity's hymen intact, no scars, no tearing, no signs of rape to her. Yet my attorney didn't use that knowledge . the DNA was all in my favor. I tell you I will spend my entire life in prison going through rape and beatings etc. even Judge Kellam abused his authority by telling the jurors to listen and believe what the prosecutors side in evidence like my daughters testimony. In one interview with the detectives my daughter got flustered with her mom and said on camera " I'm saying what you told me to mom"!! Yet Mr. Noel said nor did anything to even resemble a defense attorney. Judge Kellam allowed edited version of a taped conversation between the child and her mother. Also Judge Kellam allowed the Prosecutor too bring in to my case a knife found under my seat, the knife wasn't part of my case. She was allowed by my attorney and the judge to put a huge picture of it on the screen and huge picture of my naked privates in a full courtroom and open court. Ms. Fawcett says to jury see how easy Mr. Major could reach the knife and cut his Childs throat. Even though I had no weapons charge against these cases. This gave the jurors prejudice thought against me thinking I threatened her with that knife and how scared she would of been knowing i could get it and kill her. On my sentencing court March 19, 2014 my public defender told Judge Kellam he wish to resign from being my attorney and wished for the court to give me outside council to file a error to trial or appeal. We were denied. Now after openly knowing my public defender don't want to represent me he has to. Well when as parents we make our kids clean a room when they really don't wish to, well the child will but don't mean she will do a good job, that's where I'm at with Mr. Noel. please dont ignore mine and my families pleas for your help . we have all the legal proof you could need to prove Im innocent. Please dont make my spend years in prison innocent when you can fix this wrong. Im not saying Im a perfect man or that I was a perfect dad to my 2 children none of us are. Ive made some bad choices in life and I paid for them. But I didnt ever touch or rape my daughter . I love my children with all my heart. And now through needing attention and a ex-wife who told my granny several times she wish she could put me in prison to get me out of their lives. Well my ex finally accomplished her goal. Sad part is she is destroying our daughter with all this horrific lies and things she taught my daughter to say. My daughter will need therapist to ever hope for a chance of a normal life after what she had done to her by her mom and their side of the family. My daughter told everyone even on stand she had a dream months before i supposedly molested her in this dream I was molesting her and when I finally did it matched her dream perfectly. She admitted to watching movies about little girls being molested and watching U-Tube videos about child molesting all before it happened supposedly to her. Doesn't that sound very unusual that a non molested 9 yr old would need to know so much about being molested? The only reason I could think a 9 year old would need so much information is to be prepared to know what to say and be able to say how it felt what took place etc.. So when questioned by authorities she would be prepared. And there again sir if a parent is pre grooming a 9 year old child she would need intimate details . Like telling her daughter about a couple moles on my private area. The child admitted to sneaking my cell and looking many many times at nudes of me and my girlfriend even one where my penis was entering my girlfriends vagina. In that picture my moles are obvious. Yet when prosecutor showed everyone in court my privates and pictures of the moles she said the only way the child would know about them is if she saw them for herself. My attorney once again said nothing about the pictures my child saw. Or could a ex-wife be able to describe my moles to help her case against getting rid of me? I beg you help me. This is my very existence. Ive lost everything , a good job, a wonderful girlfriend, my freedom, but worse thing Ive lost is my children. They were my reason to get up every morning and strive to be better. The wonderful bond I had with my Serenity is gone. After this I would be afraid to even hug her for fear of what next can they do to me. I'm not afraid to tell you I sit here in this cell and try to hold back my tears. Everyone knows you cant show weakness in prison. My life has already been threatened here at Wabash Valley Prison. After only 3 days of arrival. I was tricked into signing a waiver now Im in G Block General Population with 6 child molesting felony charges. Mrs. Hart as a 18 year old I almost died hooked to machines in hospital almost 1 month and now I know that fear was childish compared to this . I cant help but put emotions in this, after all Mrs. Hart Im human and God help Me I never been more afraid in my life. I didnt hurt my little girl I didnt touch her sexually. As much as it shreds me and fills my mind what Im facing I worry more about my mom and granny because of their great love for me mam they are suffering so deeply. I aint done this things but my loved ones suffering right along beside me and If you take my case you will be in essence freeing them also. I sent momma this letter and asked her to email it to you. I'm scared I have been done so unjustly by our legal system and I need you to fix this and give me freedom. I ask you please don't just ignore my pleas. Here in America its nice to be able to trust our legal justice system, well they destroyed my and my loved ones trust in our justice system . And I'm trusting in You !!! My entire family is suffering this nightmare with me. My 77 year old granny had a stroke and isn't doing so well. My single mother that raised 3 kids alone is dying from Lupus and since my arrest has stayed so sick and weary. Our lives torn to peices by a government I was taught I could trust in. my momma has tried so many innocent project and wrongfully accused and cant get anywhere. please please help me. A quote from the late Nelson Mandela: To be free is not merely to cast off ones chains, But to live in a way that respects and enhances The Freedom Of Others. I have Faith in you and your clinic to cast my chains off and give me freedom I do deserve as a wrongfully accused Man, son, brother, father, friend. Matthew Major DOC# 246179 Cause # : 53c02-1308-FA-000779 God Bless you. Please contact me with your decision so I know you made a life changing decision for me , just please at least write me so I know you care enough about your citizens to respond to cries for your help. You can speak openly with my mother Charlotte Spain (828) 476-0406: 71 Lakeview Dr. Canton, NC 28716 Thank You Matthew Major I know yall get thousands of request and inmates claiming innocence, and each person who are innocent deserve to have organizations like yours willing to fight for them and I give yall so much Thanks and I thank God everyday yall are out there caring enough to help free the innocents. Since discovering firsthand how easily lives and families can be destroyed by Poor Defense attorneys not doing their job . And Prosecutors allowed to do as they please in court

  5. 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.

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