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. If a class action suit or other manner of retribution is possible, count me in. I have email and voicemail from the man. He colluded with opposing counsel, I am certain. My case was damaged so severely it nearly lost me everything and I am still paying dearly.

  2. There's probably a lot of blame that can be cast around for Indiana Tech's abysmal bar passage rate this last February. The folks who decided that Indiana, a state with roughly 16,000 to 18,000 attorneys, needs a fifth law school need to question the motives that drove their support of this project. Others, who have been "strong supporters" of the law school, should likewise ask themselves why they believe this institution should be supported. Is it because it fills some real need in the state? Or is it, instead, nothing more than a resume builder for those who teach there part-time? And others who make excuses for the students' poor performance, especially those who offer nothing more than conspiracy theories to back up their claims--who are they helping? What evidence do they have to support their posturing? Ultimately, though, like most everything in life, whether one succeeds or fails is entirely within one's own hands. At least one student from Indiana Tech proved this when he/she took and passed the February bar. A second Indiana Tech student proved this when they took the bar in another state and passed. As for the remaining 9 who took the bar and didn't pass (apparently, one of the students successfully appealed his/her original score), it's now up to them (and nobody else) to ensure that they pass on their second attempt. These folks should feel no shame; many currently successful practicing attorneys failed the bar exam on their first try. These same attorneys picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and got back to the rigorous study needed to ensure they would pass on their second go 'round. This is what the Indiana Tech students who didn't pass the first time need to do. Of course, none of this answers such questions as whether Indiana Tech should be accredited by the ABA, whether the school should keep its doors open, or, most importantly, whether it should have even opened its doors in the first place. Those who promoted the idea of a fifth law school in Indiana need to do a lot of soul-searching regarding their decisions. These same people should never be allowed, again, to have a say about the future of legal education in this state or anywhere else. Indiana already has four law schools. That's probably one more than it really needs. But it's more than enough.

  3. This man Steve Hubbard goes on any online post or forum he can find and tries to push his company. He said court reporters would be obsolete a few years ago, yet here we are. How does he have time to search out every single post about court reporters and even spy in private court reporting forums if his company is so successful???? Dude, get a life. And back to what this post was about, I agree that some national firms cause a huge problem.

  4. rensselaer imdiana is doing same thing to children from the judge to attorney and dfs staff they need to be investigated as well

  5. Sex offenders are victims twice, once when they are molested as kids, and again when they repeat the behavior, you never see money spent on helping them do you. That's why this circle continues