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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. Such things are no more elections than those in the late, unlamented Soviet Union.

  2. 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!!!

  3. 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?

  4. 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?

  5. 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.

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