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Shutdown wouldn't cripple legal system

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As the clock ticked closer to a partial shutdown of state government, the Hoosier legal community received word this afternoon from the Indiana Supreme Court that trial courts should conduct business as usual and that the state's legal system would continue as much as possible if lawmakers fail to pass a budget by deadline.

The consensus from most was that lawmakers would meet the midnight deadline, but questions remained about where state-funded judges, magistrates, and lawyers fit into the "essential services" puzzle being contemplated by state leaders in case of a shutdown.

Trial court employees and those within prosecutors' and defense offices are county-funded, meaning there'd be no impact on those workers. But judges and magistrates receive their salaries from the state, as do prosecutors and chief deputy prosecutors at the trial level. In addition to the state's highest appellate courts and those related agencies, the Indiana Public Defender's Office and Indiana Public Defender Council would also be impacted and put on furlough without an operating budget.

In an early afternoon e-mail, Gov. Mitch Daniels told executive branch employees that they'd be furloughed without a budget and they wouldn't be able to volunteer their time. They were told to watch news reports throughout the day and evening.

Before 3 p.m., judges statewide heard from Indiana Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard, who notified them by e-mail that a budget was close but not final, and if it didn't pass then trial court judges should report as usual to be available for police, prosecutors, and court business in general.

In his e-mail, the chief justice wrote, "There can be little doubt that just as public safety requires the continuation of state law enforcement and corrections activities it likewise relies on the availability of Indiana's trial courts for search warrants, arraignments and bail, protective orders, child support, and a host of other needs. We therefore ask that you be at your post tomorrow, as we will.

"In the event that there is not a budget, of course, the appellate courts and the support structure for the judicial branch will need to shut down, save for certain emergency functions, beginning tomorrow. Detailed decisions about those closings and furloughs will be made tomorrow morning should that be necessary."

While their actions depend on what the Supreme Court says, several judges throughout Indiana said they planned to keep their courts open.

"Regardless of what happens, I intend to be here on Wednesday and I'd urge my colleagues throughout the state to do the same," said Lake Superior Judge John Pera. "We've all taken an oath that transcends any temporary budget issues that might put our pay in jeopardy, so as far as pay we'll let those chips will fall where they may. But we've all got full dockets, people incarcerated who need hearings, ordinary people with traffic tickets that need attention. ... I just can't see how a shutdown of the judicial system would help anyone."

Judge Pera remained optimistic from news stories online that lawmakers would be able to reach a budget deal by tonight.

Passing a budget is the General Assembly's only constitutionally established duty, and it's something they failed to do before the regular session ended in April. A 1993 special session came close to a shutdown, but that was avoided at the last minute and Indiana continued to avoid something that hasn't happened in more than a century.

Stephen Johnson, executive director of the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council, said prosecutors throughout the state have been asking for guidance and he's been telling them that courts would likely continue to operate in the event of a government shutdown.

"As a matter of law, I don't see how the courts could be shut down," he said, citing constitutional requirements that mandate anyone arrested must appear before a judge within 24 to 48 hours. "At least there would have to be some people in the courts and prosecutor's office that would keep the cases flowing because arrests are going to be made regardless.

"Still, if there are non-openings, that could mess up many court calendars across the state," he said.

At the Indiana Public Defender Council, Paula Sites, assistant executive director, said the office had received word that, in the event of a shutdown, they would be furloughed along with any assistance provided to county public defenders. But she said that even as state employees, she and her staff would likely remain at work doing what needs to be done.

Spokesman Bryan Corbin for the Indiana Attorney General's Office said the state agency has an obligation to represent clients in court whether the state offices are open or not.

"Accordingly, deputy attorneys general will continue to zealously represent our clients even if a state budget isn't passed by Tuesday's deadline. Our work doesn't cease," Corbin wrote in an e-mail to Indiana Lawyer.

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  1. It appears the police and prosecutors are allowed to change the rules halfway through the game to suit themselves. I am surprised that the congress has not yet eliminated the right to a trial in cases involving any type of forensic evidence. That would suit their foolish law and order police state views. I say we eliminate the statute of limitations for crimes committed by members of congress and other government employees. Of course they would never do that. They are all corrupt cowards!!!

  2. Poor Judge Brown probably thought that by slavishly serving the godz of the age her violations of 18th century concepts like due process and the rule of law would be overlooked. Mayhaps she was merely a Judge ahead of her time?

  3. in a lawyer discipline case Judge Brown, now removed, was presiding over a hearing about a lawyer accused of the supposedly heinous ethical violation of saying the words "Illegal immigrant." (IN re Barker) http://www.in.gov/judiciary/files/order-discipline-2013-55S00-1008-DI-429.pdf .... I wonder if when we compare the egregious violations of due process by Judge Brown, to her chiding of another lawyer for politically incorrectness, if there are any conclusions to be drawn about what kind of person, what kind of judge, what kind of apparatchik, is busy implementing the agenda of political correctness and making off-limits legit advocacy about an adverse party in a suit whose illegal alien status is relevant? I am just asking the question, the reader can make own conclsuion. Oh wait-- did I use the wrong adjective-- let me rephrase that, um undocumented alien?

  4. of course the bigger questions of whether or not the people want to pay for ANY bussing is off limits, due to the Supreme Court protecting the people from DEMOCRACY. Several decades hence from desegregation and bussing plans and we STILL need to be taking all this taxpayer money to combat mostly-imagined "discrimination" in the most obviously failed social program of the postwar period.

  5. You can put your photos anywhere you like... When someone steals it they know it doesn't belong to them. And, a man getting a divorce is automatically not a nice guy...? That's ridiculous. Since when is need of money a conflict of interest? That would mean that no one should have a job unless they are already financially solvent without a job... A photographer is also under no obligation to use a watermark (again, people know when a photo doesn't belong to them) or provide contact information. Hey, he didn't make it easy for me to pay him so I'll just take it! Well heck, might as well walk out of the grocery store with a cart full of food because the lines are too long and you don't find that convenient. "Only in Indiana." Oh, now you're passing judgement on an entire state... What state do you live in? I need to characterize everyone in your state as ignorant and opinionated. And the final bit of ignorance; assuming a photo anyone would want is lucky and then how much does your camera have to cost to make it a good photo, in your obviously relevant opinion?

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