Clark Circuit and Superior judges have filed lawsuits against county officials over proposed budget cuts, restarting the kind of litigation that four years ago led to the Indiana Supreme Court’s urging that trial judges work with and share in the financial decision-making process rather than resorting to judicial mandates.
Two lawsuits filed in April and May allege the county council has cut the budget in ways that leave too little money for the courts to do their constitutional jobs. If successful, the lawsuits could require the county to borrow up to $1.2 million and enact a special tax increase to pay off that loan in order to fund what the judges want. In March, the council cut the Superior and Circuit budgets by 50 percent because the state wouldn’t allow a property tax increase.
Circuit Judge Daniel Moore filed a suit in April that claims the council’s decision was “arbitrary and unreasonable,” and that the decision failed to meet “legally required mandates and standards for policy-based decision-making.”
Superior Judges Vicki Carmichael, Jerry Jacobi, and Joseph Weber filed a suit this month that says it would be impossible for their courts to function properly if the money isn’t restored.
The pair of suits follows the Indiana Supreme Court’s ruling in 2007 on two mandate cases including Clark County Council, et al. v. Daniel F. Donahue et al., 873 N.E.2d 1038, 1039, in which the judges filed suit after the county decided to use all of the annual probation fees to pay salaries and other expenditures to avoid employee layoffs.
That case focused on the use of probation fees, and the justices remanded the case with directions that the Clark County Council allocate or return some of that money to the county adult probation services fund. In conjunction with another mandate action from Montgomery County, the state justices tried to strike a middle ground that encouraged a compromise between county judges and officials when dealing with fiscal issues. The court hinted that an unbalanced scale could hinder the overall justice system or damage independence, but it didn’t specifically strike down the ability to use judicial mandates under Trial Rule 60.5.
Rehearing: "Court rules on judicial mandates, probation-fee use" IL Oct. 3 - 16, 2007