A new set of rules for Marion County’s nine township Small Claims courts will make the forums more transparent and put important court information online for the first time, according to the judge overseeing reform efforts.
Marion Circuit Judge Louis Rosenberg said the revised rules have been approved and will be posted on the state’s judicial website, www.courts.in.gov. The rules are in response to scrutiny based on accusations of bias in favor of large-volume filers and inconsistent practices among the courts.
“I think that the most important thing, and I don’t know if it’s going to be easy to quantify, is there will be a change in the atmosphere of the Small Claims Courts,” Rosenberg said. “It’s going to make those courts more transparent.
“The more mundane change will be that you’ll see a great deal more uniformity,” he said.
The rules as proposed standardized hours, forms, filing fees and notice of the rights of litigants, particularly those representing themselves. The draft rules also required, among other things, that court staff wear identifiers, that all parties to a lawsuit have equal access to court case files, and that township judges not be allowed to practice in other township courts.
But the new rules go further based on comments received over the past month, Rosenberg said. Among the additional changes:
- A website will be developed for all nine township courts. The portal will include the standard forms that will be required in Small Claims actions, and litigants will be able to use the website to check the status of cases in any of the township courts.
- Landlords who comply with the Indiana security deposit statute and provide tenants an itemized statement of damages will no longer be required to go through an amendment procedure.
- Litigants will be required to wait at least 30 days after a judgment to file proceedings supplemental.
The push for new rules was spurred by an advisory committee formed after Court of Appeals Judge John Baker and Senior Judge Betty Barteau issued a report that recommended an overhaul in the way the courts were structured and reforms in the way they did business. The study and report followed a Wall Street Journal article citing practices such as “forum shopping” by debt collectors and other large-volume filers.
Rosenberg said the rules aim to address perceptions that courts didn’t always offer litigants level playing fields. “This is creating an atmosphere that will make the courts more evenhanded with the way they’re dealing with litigants,” he said.
The new rules will take effect March 1, Rosenberg said, and a deadline of July 1 has been set to create the new website for the township courts. Rosenberg said the web address has not yet been determined.