In a published opinion issued today in Denia Baniaga v. State of Indiana, No. 49A04-0801-CR-21, the three-judge panel led by Chief Judge John G. Baker attached a footnote to the first page of the case from Marion Superior Judge Steven Eichholtz and Master Commissioner Patrick Murphy. The master commissioner heard the case involving felony cocaine possession and a misdemeanor charge of driving with a suspended license, and he signed the abstract of judgment.
A July 25 memorandum opinion from the Court of Appeals in Ervin Crabtree v. State of Indiana, No. 49A02-0711-CR-983, contained similar language in a case involving the same judge and master commissioner.
Interpreting two statutes governing master commissioners, the court noted that it believes the law says a master commissioner must keep the judge apprised regarding the matters before him or her, but not that the judge needs to approve by signature the master commissioner's statutorily authorized actions.
The court delved into Indiana Code 33-33-49-16(e) that provides that a "master commissioner shall report findings in each of the matters before the master commissioner in writing to the judge or judges of the division to which the master commissioner is assigned;" as well as Indiana Code 33-23-5-5 that gives master commissioners similar duties that a magistrate has in entering final orders, conducting sentencing hearings, or imposing sentences on someone convicted of a criminal offense.