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David, Goff publish dissent after justices let stand parents’ reimbursement order

February 21, 2019

Two Indiana Supreme Court justices have once again published a dissent from a 3-2 transfer ruling, which this time let stand a monthly reimbursement order for the parents of an adjudicated teen despite their alleged struggle to meet the payment requirements. Justices Steven David and Christopher Goff argued the trial court should have conducted a specific inquiry into the parents’ ability to pay the ordered reimbursement.

The majority — Chief Justice Loretta Rush and justices Mark Massa and Geoffrey Slaughter — voted to deny transfer in J.T. v. State of Indiana, 18A-JV-707, a case that similarly divided the Indiana Court of Appeals in September 2018.

In less than two years, juvenile J.T. committed numerous probation violations and failed to participate in several rehabilitative programs offered to him. By the time the problem-solving court finally terminated his participation and ordered his commitment to the Department of Corrections, J.T. had racked up more than $8,000 in court costs, service fees and restitution.

J.T.’s mother agreed to pay $20 a month to reimburse the costs of the services rendered to her son, but J.T. appealed that order. The majority of the COA, however, found that he failed to show the Lawrence Circuit Court abused its discretion “in declining to find that his parents were unable to pay or that justice would not be served by ordering them to pay.” The court also upheld his commitment to the DOC.

But Judge L. Mark Bailey noted in a dissent that “[t]he willingness and agreement of Mother to contribute does not necessarily render her able to satisfy an $8,363.00 judgment without extreme hardship.” In their dissent from the transfer decision, David and Goff agreed with Bailey and argued that although trial courts bear responsibility under Indiana Code section 31-40-1-3(c) to make sure a parent is able to pay and that justice is served by payment requirements, justice would not be served in this case by ordering J.T.’s parents to bear a nearly 35-year financial burden.

“Rather than a passive requirement, however, I would hold that a trial court must specifically inquire into a parent or guardian’s ability to pay the reimbursement before entering an order directing payments,” David wrote in a dissenting opinion joined by Goff. “Under the facts and circumstances of this case, I believe such an inquiry would have revealed the significant financial burden that has been placed on these particular parents.”

The dissenting justices further opined that special inquiry into J.T.’s parents’ ability to pay was necessary even though the costs owed in his case were significantly less than those in former COA cases such as Matter of C.K., where more than $52,000 was owed, and In re M.L.K., where nearly $22,000 was owed.

“I would find that Indiana Code section 31-40-1-3(c) compels a trial court to inquire into the ability to pay no matter what number appears on the balance sheet,” the dissent continued. “As previously stated, I do not believe the trial court in this case deviated from what is likely the common practice in many courtrooms across the state.  

“But I do believe that we can and should do better in this area,” David concluded. “For these reasons, I respectfully dissent from the denial of transfer in this case and would remand this matter to the trial court with instructions to inquire into the parents’ ability to pay.”

David published a dissent to another transfer decision last, that one related to the case of Tevarus L. Gary v. State of Indiana, 18A-CR-01101. Joined by Rush, David’s dissenting opinion challenged a decision not to grant transfer to a case that could pave the way for criminal defendants to be sentenced via video.

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