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State funding of judges being explored

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Lawmakers rejected a southern Indiana county's request this week for a new judge to run a family court, even though it proposes paying for it locally rather than with state money. But in declining to attach the magistrate-turned-judge idea to another bill, a House committee said it wants to keep talking about the issue that could be a policy-altering move in how Indiana pays for its trial court judges.

The House Judiciary Committee approved HB 1154, which would allow Marion County to convert its 24 appointed commissioners to magistrates that hold the same responsibilities but would be able to consider a wider range of issues within each court. The county proposes paying the $2.3 million for those magistrates with a $35 fee tacked on to traffic infractions, which has been collected since 2004 and is by law turned over to the state general fund. The fee initially went into place to pay for jail overcrowding costs, but that issue has been largely resolved and the fee isn't used for that anymore. Now, the state's largest county wants to use that money to save the state from having to pay for the county magistrates or pay for adding new judicial officers.

By doing this, the county expects it would also be able to save enough money to use for the local funding of guardian ad litem costs, which became necessary after the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled on this issue last year.

Committee members voted 11-0 in support of the idea, but not before voicing hesitation about a proposal by Rep. Eric Koch, R-Bedford, to amend the legislation so that Bartholomew Superior Court could also convert a commissioner position into a new Superior judgeship starting in July 2011.

This would allow the county to convert a current commissioner, who hears only child support non-payment cases, to a judge that could hear all family-related case types. Bartholomew Circuit Judge Stephen Heimann proposed using the same kind of funding mechanism as Marion County is proposing in its commissioner-to-magistrate conversion - using a fee of at least $20 on traffic infractions that would go to the state general fund. If anything fell short of the estimated $150,000 needed, the county would be responsible for making up the difference. An estimated $189,000 per year could be raised from the fee, and be applied not only to the judge's salary but also benefits, Judge Heimann said.

Even without this having a state fiscal impact, Rep. Trent Van Haaften, D-Mount Vernon, questioned why the proposed amendment didn't call for a commissioner-to-magistrate change as Marion County's proposal did, but rather a commissioner-to-judge. In response, Judge Heimann said it was specifically because the county needed a new family court and needed a judge's authority to hear all of those issues that might come before it.

This new judge request arose during the interim Commission on Courts meeting last fall. Judge Heimann requested a third judge and the interim committee approved the idea as long as state funding is available. After that, discussion began about how the new judgeship could be paid for and possibly be merged into other legislation.

Rep. Cherrish Pryor, D-Indianapolis, said she couldn't support that idea being attached to her HB 1154 at this time without knowing more. She noted her concern about modifying the system of how state judges are funded in this case. Several other lawmakers also expressed concerns, some more broadly about how it could be applied to other counties.

"This is a whole policy change," said committee chair Rep. Linda Lawson, D-Hammond. "We're talking about changing how we do things all together in funding state judges."

Representatives said this funding mechanism could open the door to other counties who might want to explore more creative ways to pay for new judicial officers rather than simply relying on the traditional state funding process. Lawson asked that it not be included in this legislation but that discussions continue on the concept more broadly.

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  1. Where may I find an attorney working Pro Bono? Many issues with divorce, my Disability, distribution of IRA's, property, money's and pressured into agreement by my attorney. Leaving me far less than 5% of all after 15 years of marriage. No money to appeal, disabled living on disability income. Attorney's decision brought forward to judge, no evidence ever to finalize divorce. Just 2 weeks ago. Please help.

  2. For the record no one could answer the equal protection / substantive due process challenge I issued in the first post below. The lawless and accountable only to power bureaucrats never did either. All who interface with the Indiana law examiners or JLAP be warned.

  3. Hi there I really need help with getting my old divorce case back into court - I am still paying support on a 24 year old who has not been in school since age 16 - now living independent. My visitation with my 14 year old has never been modified; however, when convenient for her I can have him... I am paying past balance from over due support, yet earn several thousand dollars less. I would contact my original attorney but he basically molest me multiple times in Indy when I would visit.. Todd Woodmansee - I had just came out and had know idea what to do... I have heard he no longer practices. Please help1

  4. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  5. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

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