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Task force will examine Marion County's small claims courts

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A new task force will review the practices and procedures of the nine small claims courts within the state’s largest county, following critical reports last year suggesting litigants may not receive the same access to justice in each court or as parties have in other Indiana jurisdictions.

The Indiana Supreme Court announced the new task force Tuesday. Court of Appeals Judge John Baker and Senior Judge Betty Barteau, who both had experience at the small claims level, will be responsible for examining the unique structure of Marion County’s small claims system.

Each of the nine townships have their own locally funded courts, judges and staff. Most of the collection cases in those courts involve less than $6,000, and those can be filed in any of the nine townships – except in landlord-tenant disputes, which must be filed in the township where the property is located. But in every case, no matter the jurisdiction, the defendant has the ability to ask that the lawsuit be venued to the township where he or she lives. Questions have arisen about the township trustees’ influence on court operations and how judicial independence is impacted.

The issue received national attention in July when a front-page Wall Street Journal article highlighted perceptions about “forum shopping” in the small claims courts. The article focused on debt collection cases and how the location of proceedings is often determined based on a lawyer’s perceptions of local courts and the collections practices imposed by each judge. The WSJ reported that some Indiana judges handle their courtroom practices differently by accommodating “frequent-filer” collection attorneys. For example, some have different practices for supervising meetings between creditor attorneys and debtor litigants or which cases actually go before the judge.

In response to that WSJ article, Marion Circuit Judge Lou Rosenberg began exploring the practices and procedures and in October 2011 the Indiana Lawyer reported that Rosenberg and the small claims judges had started taking action in response to the allegations. Collaboration increased between the different townships in order to create a more unified and consistent approach to how they handle cases and work with litigants. The courts also created a “rights and responsibilities” pamphlet to display and hand out in court to litigants to help ensure the public knows what is and isn’t allowed.

Now, the new task force will study the practices and procedures to determine if any changes are needed. The task force will hold public hearings in late February and early March in Perry and Pike townships to get feedback from small claims litigants and lawyers before issuing a report to the Supreme Court Committee on Rules of Practice and Procedure. The task force may make recommendations on needed adjustments in the courts depending on the review and feedback, and the rules committee will then make final recommendations to the state justices. Any procedural rule changes would come from the Supreme Court.

 

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  1. Well, maybe it's because they are unelected, and, they have a tendency to strike down laws by elected officials from all over the country. When you have been taught that "Democracy" is something almost sacred, then, you will have a tendency to frown on such imperious conduct. Lawyers get acculturated in law school into thinking that this is the very essence of high minded government, but to people who are more heavily than King George ever did, they may not like it. Thanks for the information.

  2. I pd for a bankruptcy years ago with Mr Stiles and just this week received a garnishment from my pay! He never filed it even though he told me he would! Don't let this guy practice law ever again!!!

  3. Excellent initiative on the part of the AG. Thankfully someone takes action against predators taking advantage of people who have already been through the wringer. Well done!

  4. Conour will never turn these funds over to his defrauded clients. He tearfully told the court, and his daughters dutifully pledged in interviews, that his first priority is to repay every dime of the money he stole from his clients. Judge Young bought it, much to the chagrin of Conour’s victims. Why would Conour need the $2,262 anyway? Taxpayers are now supporting him, paying for his housing, utilities, food, healthcare, and clothing. If Conour puts the money anywhere but in the restitution fund, he’s proved, once again, what a con artist he continues to be and that he has never had any intention of repaying his clients. Judge Young will be proven wrong... again; Conour has no remorse and the Judge is one of the many conned.

  5. Pass Legislation to require guilty defendants to pay for the costs of lab work, etc as part of court costs...

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