Indiana Chief Justice Brent Dickson told a joint session of the General Assembly Wednesday that lawmakers’ help was needed to fix Marion County Township Small Claims Courts, which have been plagued by allegations of forum shopping and other criticism.
“Systemic change is imperative, and this requires legislative action,” Dickson said in his State of the Judiciary speech. He noted local leadership and rules changes instituted after a task force examined problems in the courts “can only scratch the surface.”
Reforming the township courts in Indianapolis was one of three judicial items Dickson said would require legislation. Others include bringing the abstract of judgment into the digital age. The court has been working with clerks and other stakeholders, he said, “in an effort to modernize this relic of the quill pen era. We need your help.”
Lawmakers in the future also should “consider shifting more and more funding of the judicial branch expenses from local government to state funding. For many reasons, this is wise and sound public policy, and it is used effectively in many other states.”
Dickson’s second State of the Judiciary address comes in a short session when lawmakers won’t be hashing out a budget or doing much heavy lifting on financial matters, and he didn’t lobby hard for funding.
“Indiana’s judges are very, very busy; we are extremely challenged but quite gratified every day. We could do even better with more resources,” he said at the outset.
He said the judiciary is “an amazing value to Hoosiers,” spending only 9 cents of every $10 collected by state and local units of governments, and returning more than half of those expenditures in collected revenue.
Mandatory reporting of pro bono hours for Indiana attorneys is moving forward. “We are working to have such a program in place in the coming months,” he said, noting an overview of civil cases statewide recently showed 63 percent of litigants were without counsel.
“When people are in court without a lawyer, bad things happen,” he said.
Meanwhile, Dickson said courts would assist with implementation of the Legislature’s “masterful achievement” of revising Indiana’s Criminal Code. “A product of multiple years of thoughtful efforts and difficult negotiations, the result was an outstanding piece of legislation,” he said.
The full text of Dickson’s address may be viewed on the court’s website.