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Supreme Court upholds denial of continuance

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The majority of justices on the Indiana Supreme Court agreed that the trial court didn't abuse its discretion in denying a married couple's pro se motion to continue after their attorney withdrew six weeks before trial. The dissenting justice argued because of the complexities of the case, the trial court should have granted the couple's motion.

In Rudrappa and Jayashree Gunashekar v. Kay Grose d/b/a/ America's Affordable Housing, J&K Manufacturing, No. 02S03-0812-CV-762, the Supreme Court affirmed 4-1 the denial of the Gunashekars' motion to continue and the convictions of breach of contract, conversion, and deception. The Gunashekars hired Kay Grose's company to repair fire damage to property they leased and had insured. Grose claimed after she completed the work that Rudrappa refused to pay from his insurance proceeds, forged her name on the back of the insurance check, and wrote her a check that was returned unpaid.

The Gunashekars originally were represented by an attorney, but he withdrew six weeks prior to trial. The trial court made clear in its pretrial order that no removals or continuances of any settings or deadlines were permitted. The Gunashekars didn't obtain a new attorney and filed a pro se motion for a continuance, which the trial court denied. They appeared pro se at the trial, in which the trial court entered judgment for Grose finding the couple was jointly and severally liable for $147,000 and Rudrappa was liable for an additional $296,000 for treble damages and attorney fees.

The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed the denial of motion to continue and didn't rule on any other issues.

But the Supreme Court found the trial court didn't abuse its discretion in denying the motion because the Gunashekars didn't indicate to the court they were diligent in trying to find a new attorney or whether they did anything after their original counsel withdrew, wrote Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard.

"If any inference can be drawn from the unexplained passage of six weeks from the time their attorney withdrew, it is that they were not forced to proceed without an attorney," he wrote.

Justice Robert Rucker dissented, writing that although it may be correct to say the trial court didn't abuse its discretion in denying the pro se motion, the denial is grounds for reversal. The case presented a level of complexity involving insurance proceeds, joint and several liability, contract compliance, and other issues that few, if any, pro se litigants would be able to successfully navigate, he wrote.

"With a potential exposure, and indeed an ultimate adverse judgment, of nearly a half million dollars the Gunashekars needed the assistance of trained legal counsel," Justice Rucker continued. "Fairness and equity required the trial court to afford the Gunashekars a reasonable delay to accomplish this end."

The majority also affirmed the judgment against both defendants, Rudrappa's forgery constituted conversion, Rudrappa committed conversion, and the award of attorney fees.

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  1. File under the Sociology of Hoosier Discipline ... “We will be answering the complaint in due course and defending against the commission’s allegations,” said Indianapolis attorney Don Lundberg, who’s representing Hudson in her disciplinary case. FOR THOSE WHO DO NOT KNOW ... Lundberg ran the statist attorney disciplinary machinery in Indy for decades, and is now the "go to guy" for those who can afford him .... the ultimate insider for the well-to-do and/or connected who find themselves in the crosshairs. It would appear that this former prosecutor knows how the game is played in Circle City ... and is sacrificing accordingly. See more on that here ... http://www.theindianalawyer.com/supreme-court-reprimands-attorney-for-falsifying-hours-worked/PARAMS/article/43757 Legal sociologists could have a field day here ... I wonder why such things are never studied? Is a sacrifice to the well connected former regulators a de facto bribe? Such questions, if probed, could bring about a more just world, a more equal playing field, less Stalinist governance. All of the things that our preambles tell us to value could be advanced if only sunshine reached into such dark worlds. As a great jurist once wrote: "Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman." Other People's Money—and How Bankers Use It (1914). Ah, but I am certifiable, according to the Indiana authorities, according to the ISC it can be read, for believing such trite things and for advancing such unwanted thoughts. As a great albeit fictional and broken resistance leaders once wrote: "I am the dead." Winston Smith Let us all be dead to the idea of maintaining a patently unjust legal order.

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