To the editor:
I read the article about the proposed change in the Marion County Small Claims Court system, which appeared in the recent edition of the (Indiana) Lawyer. I also read earlier articles in the (Indiana) Lawyer and the (Indianapolis) Star on the same subject. The committee appointed by the Supreme Court has recommended removing the entire Small Claims Court system to the Marion Superior Court system in downtown Indy. The Supreme Court apparently agrees. The move is supposed to be a solution to alleged problems in the present Small Claims Court structure. I practiced in both the Marion Superior Courts and the Small Claims Courts for many years. Without addressing the validity of the allegations, I feel compelled to point out an important factor, maybe THE most important factor, that should be considered when proposing such a move. No one in any article I have read has mentioned it. I don’t know if this was an oversight or if it just wasn’t considered important. Hopefully neither.
The present Small Claims Courts are located in different townships. The judges as well as the constables are elected every four years by the eligible voters of their township. If they are not doing their jobs, the voters can remove them – a totally democratic process, the American way. Judges in the Marion Superior Court system are NOT elected nor are they appointed by any elected officials. They are put in place, on the bench, in the slating process that occurs prior to the primary elections. If there are 10 seats open, each party slates five candidates and the fall “election” calls for a “Vote for 10 of 10.” A friend asked me how that could be called an election. The simple answer: It isn’t. I always felt that calling it an election was legalized fraud. The result is that the Superior Court judges are appointed by politicians from the two major political parties, politicians who are not elected or appointed, just behind-the-scene politicos.
This is a serious matter. The committee and apparently the (Supreme) Court are ready to take the Small Claims Court system away from a democratic process where the people are heard, and place it in a system where the people have no voice, one where politicians appoint the judges. And that is supposed to be the solution to alleged corruption. WOW! And we wonder why people don’t trust the system, lawyers or politicians.
The rational solution is to keep the system where it is more convenient, less costly and serves the constituents. It only requires promulgating rules and an oversight system that will promote and guarantee fairness and quick handling of small claims. To even suggest that this cannot be done is akin to saying, “You can’t get there from here.”
Big government is devouring more of our freedoms every day. Let’s keep the Small Claims Courts with the people!
George A. Cottrell