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Trial that OK’d Jasper energy plant conversion error-filled

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A judge who ruled against opponents of the conversion of a former coal-fired energy plant in Jasper abused her discretion on a series of matters, the Indiana Court of Appeals held Monday in reversing a bench trial that found for the city.

The appellate panel stopped short of saying that there were clear violations of the Indiana Open Door Law by the city or its “volunteer” board dominated by city official that met frequently with representatives of a company that won the city’s endorsement of a proposal to convert a dormant coal-fired plant to a biomass-burning plant.

A citizens group called Healthy Dubois County formed to oppose the project because of concern that burning miscanthus grass to produce electricity could carry public health risks. It sued in an attempt to block the signing of any agreements on the plant conversion, claiming among other things that officials had violated the Open Door Law with meetings that led to approval of the proposal.

In Dr. Norma Kreilein, Rock Emmert, and Healthy Dubois County, Inc. v. Common Council of the City of Jasper and Jasper Utility Board, 19A04-1201-MI-51, the appeals court found that Special Judge M. Lucy Goffinet in Dubois Circuit Court had erred in denying HDC’s amended motions after discovery yielded more avenues through which discovery could occur.

“In sum, HDC has demonstrated that it was diligent in pursuing discovery, but was thwarted for months by Jasper’s refusal to cooperate. Less than two weeks prior to trial, HDC obtained information in the course of depositions that suggested possible Open Door Law violations by the volunteer group. The trial court abused its discretion when it denied HDC’s third motion to amend its complaint, filed only four months after its initial complaint and while discovery was ongoing,” Judge Edward Najam wrote for the panel.

“The trial court abused its discretion when it denied HDC’s motion to continue the trial. We reverse and remand with instructions that the trial court: (1) grant HDC’s third motion to amend its complaint; (2) grant HDC an additional thirty days to conduct new discovery, including but not limited to depositions; (3) grant HDC’s second motion to compel discovery; and (4) schedule a new trial to be held no less than thirty days after the close of discovery.”

The panel also noted the unusually swift nature of the bench trial. In a footnote, Najam wrote, “Our research has not revealed any cases involving the Open Door Law where the time between the filing of the complaint and trial was so abbreviated.”  
 

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  1. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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