Indiana Court Decisions: Nov. 16-30, 2022

7th Circuit Court of Appeals

Nov. 28

Jane Doe No. 1, et al. v. Todd Rokita, Attorney General of Indiana, et al.

22-2748

Exasperated 7th Circuit reverses block on Indiana’s fetal disposition law

In an outright reversal, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld Indiana’s law requiring fetal remains to be buried or cremated and chastised the Indiana Southern District Court for blocking the statute in the first place.

Judge Frank Easterbrook wrote the five-page ruling in Jane Doe No. 1, et al. v. Todd Rokita, Attorney General of Indiana, et al., 22-2748. The panel, which also included Judges Michael Brennan and Michael Scudder, limited the briefing in the case and did not hold oral arguments.

“The district court could have provided full relief to these four plaintiffs by enjoining the application of the statute to them,” Easterbrook wrote. “But instead it barred multiple state officials from applying these laws to anyone.

Consequently, the 7th Circuit opted to “reverse outright” — rather than remand with instructions to “tailor the relief to the violation” — the lower court’s ruling, which granted partial summary judgment in favor of the plaintiffs. The Indiana Southern District Court found Indiana’s fetal disposition law violated the constitutional protections of free speech and free exercise of religious beliefs.

Since the law was enacted in 2016, the fetal disposition statute has been challenged all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States. A per curiam decision issued in Box v. Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky, Inc., 587 U.S.___(2019), affirmed the law, finding the statute was rationally related to the state’s interest.

“The district court’s needlessly broad injunction treats the statute as invalid across the board (that is, on its face rather than as applied), which effectively countermands the Supreme Court’s decision for the entire population of Indiana,” Easterbrook wrote. “This offends the principle that relief should be no greater than necessary to protect the rights of the prevailing litigants.”

Easterbrook dismissed the plaintiffs’ arguments that the law violated their religious beliefs by treating the fetus as a person. He pointed out that dogs, cats and other pets can be cremated and buried but are not considered people.

“Indiana’s statute about fetal remains therefore need not imply anything about the appropriate characterization of a fetus,” Easterbrook wrote. “At all events, a moral objection to one potential implication of the way medical providers handle fetal remains is some distance from a contention that the state compels any woman to violate her own religious tenets.”

The appellate judge was equally skeptical of the plaintiffs’ contention that the overturning of Roe v. Wade limited some of the state’s authority.

Specifically, the plaintiffs — including “(t)wo physicians (who) do not want to tell patients about their statutory options” — argued Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, 142 S. Ct. 2228 (2022), overruled Planned Parenthood of Southeast Pennsylvania v. Casey, 5050 U.S. 833 (1992), which held that states may require medical providers to give truthful information. As a consequence, the state requirement that medical professionals dispense information violates the First Amendment unless the state can show a compelling need, they argued.

Easterbrook disagreed with that view.

“The norm that units of government may require physicians (and other professionals) to provide accurate information to their clients long predates Casey and has not been disturbed since,” Easterbrook wrote. “Physicians must tell patients about drugs’ side effects and provide information that enables informed consent to risky procedures such as surgery. Nothing in Dobbs, or any other post-Casey decision, implies that similar notice requirements violate the Constitution.”

Court of Appeals of Indiana

Nov. 16

In the Matter of the Marriage of: Olga Sims v. John Daniel Sims

22A-DN-639

Hoosier trial court can divide property after couple’s German divorce

A woman who was divorced in a German court can pursue the division of her marital property in an Indiana trial court, the Court of Appeals of Indiana has ruled.

Olga and John Sims are American citizens who moved to Germany together in 2018 for John’s job. The couple separated while living in Germany, and Olga filed a divorce petition in a German court.

The German court dissolved the marriage but determined it lacked jurisdiction to divide their marital property, writing, “In the case of countries … such as … the USA, the international jurisdiction of German courts to decide on a pension plan is questionable and largely denied.”

The pension at issue was John’s pension, which he earned as a civilian contractor for government and private defense contractors, including the U.S. Department of Defense.

Meanwhile, John had moved back to the United States and settled in Johnson County, Indiana. Thus, Olga petitioned the Johnson Circuit Court to assume jurisdiction of the dissolution action, specifically asking the trial court to rule on the issue of division of marital property.

The trial court denied her motion, finding it was barred by res judicata because the German court was a court of competent jurisdiction that had rendered a decision on the division of property on the merits.

The trial court then denied Olga’s motion to correct error, expressing frustration that it was “impossible to accurately determine” what had occurred in the German proceedings because the foreign court’s rulings were “very difficult to understand.” Ultimately, the Indiana court determined there was “simply too much that is not known by this court to grant the motion to correct error.”

In reversing in Olga’s favor, the Court of Appeals agreed with her argument that the German court did not, in fact, render a judgment on the merits on her request for division of marital property.

“We sympathize with the trial court’s frustration in interpreting the German court’s ruling,” Judge Rudolph Pyle wrote in In the Matter of the Marriage of: Olga Sims v. John Daniel Sims, 22A-DN-639. “But whatever ambiguities may exist in those rulings, they clearly show that the German court did not render a judgment on the merits of Wife’s request for division of marital property.

“Thus, res judicata does not prevent the trial court from considering Wife’s request to divide marital property, and Wife has demonstrated prima facie error in the trial court’s denial of her motion to correct error,” Pyle wrote. “Accordingly, we reverse the trial court and remand this matter for further proceedings.”

Lake County Board of Commissioners, et al. v. Lake County Sheriff Oscar Martinez, Jr., in his official capacity

22A-PL-1559

Lake County sheriff didn’t need commissioners’ approval to sign jail contract for health services

In a dispute between Lake County’s sheriff and the local county commissioners, the Court of Appeals of Indiana has ruled for the sheriff after finding he acted within his authority when signing a contract to provide health services at the jail without first getting permission.

Oscar Martinez Jr. has served as elected sheriff in Lake County since 2017, and his duties include operating the local jail and taking care of the inmates housed there.

Since 2012, Martinez and his predecessors have engaged the services of Correctional Health Indiana Inc. to provide medical services to the inmates. Those contracts for the services have ranged from annual to multiyear.

The earlier contracts were entered into between CHI and the Lake County Board of Commissioners “on behalf of” the sheriff. Later contracts, including the three-year contract for 2017 through 2019, were expressly “approved by” the board “on behalf of” the sheriff.

In the summer of 2021, Martinez negotiated an agreement with CHI for services in 2022 totaling $6.1 million, payable over two years. The negotiated amount for CHI’s services was included as a line item in the sheriff’s proposed departmental budget for 2022, which was submitted to the Lake County Council for review and approval.

The council approved the sheriff’s 2022 budget in October 2021, so the sheriff and CHI executed a contract for medical services at the jail. At its November 2021 meeting, the commissioners ratified the council’s countywide budget for 2022.

With approval of his 2022 budget, the sheriff had available funds to cover the full amount of the 2022 CHI contract. Still, because the board had historically requested that it review and approve such contracts, the sheriff placed the contract on the agenda for the board’s November meeting.

At the meeting, individual commissioners expressed displeasure that the sheriff had not allowed an independent quality insurance consultant, hired by the board in 2020, to have access to the jail. The commissioners also noted the contract would be the third extension of the arrangement with CHI, with a significant price increase, and the services had not been put out for bid since 2016.

The board voted to defer action on the contract, ostensibly to give the sheriff 30 days to grant the consultant access to the jail.

Given the impending expiration of the current contract with CHI, Martinez requested that the board schedule a special meeting before Jan. 1 to approve the 2022 contract. The board refused the sheriff’s request.

Subsequently, on or about Dec. 22, 2021, Martinez executed a new contract with CHI for medical services at the jail for 2022 that was identical to the first contract, except that the signature block for board approval was omitted.

On Jan. 18, the sheriff submitted a purchase order to the board and/or the auditor for the full amount of the second contract along with CHI’s first invoice for $253,952. The auditor certified that there were appropriated funds available to pay for the purchase order.

The next day, at its regular meeting, the board voted to continue contracting with CHI for medical services at the jail, but only at the rate that CHI had been paid in 2021 and only on a month-to-month basis. The board’s decision to approve payments at the prior 2021 rate resulted in a monthly shortfall to CHI of $24,186.

Accordingly, the sheriff submitted a purchase order change request form changing the amount from $6.1 million to $5.8 million. In the remarks section of the form, the sheriff indicated that the amendment of the purchase order amount was “not intended as any compromise or waiver of the Sheriff’s claims” in the instant lawsuit, which he filed Jan. 21.

The sheriff filed a complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief seeking declarations that he, not the board, had the authority to enter contracts relating to the operation of the jail and/or the care of its inmates, and that he alone had the authority to determine how to spend the funds in his annual approved budget.

The sheriff also asked the trial court to direct the board and the auditor to approve the original purchase order for the second contract “and any future purchase orders and/or invoices submitted by the Sheriff in connection with the Second CHI 2022 Contract.”

Finally, Martinez asked for a declaration that he didn’t need to submit future contracts to the board for approval that relate to the operation of the jail and/or the care of its inmates.

The Lake Superior Court granted partial summary judgment in favor of the sheriff and denied the board’s cross-motion for summary judgment.

Specifically, the trial court found the sheriff had the authority to enter into contracts to take care of the jail and the inmates there and to determine how to spend funds within the 2022 sheriff’s budget that were allocated to take care of the jail and its inmates. It also directed the board and auditor to process/approve/pay/satisfy purchase orders and/or invoices submitted by the sheriff attendant to the second contract with CHI.

Before the COA, judges affirmed for the sheriff.

“We agree with the Sheriff that his express duty to take care of the Jail and its prisoners includes the authority to enter into contracts for this purpose,” Judge Robert Altice wrote. “… Indeed, if the Board had the exclusive right to enter into such contracts, as it claims, the Sheriff would be transformed into a passive manager, a mere department head, notwithstanding his constitutional office, and would have limited ability to take care of the Jail and its prisoners.

“As the trial court observed, statutory assignment of the Sheriff’s take-care duty ‘could not be more expressed,’’’ Altice continued. “The General Assembly’s grant of power and authority to the Sheriff must allow for him to fulfill this statutory duty. In other words, by assigning the Sheriff the take-care duty, the General Assembly granted him the authority to enter into jail-related contracts. This interpretation harmonizes and gives effect to both I.C. § 36-2-3.5-4 and I.C. § 36-2-13-5(a)(7).”

Further, the COA found there was no dispute over the 2022 approved budget and rejected the board’s reliance on I.C. 36-2-6-2.

“While this statute provides the Board with discretion to consider the validity of invoices filed with the Auditor, it does not allow the Board to abuse that discretion by refusing to pay valid invoices submitted by officials for budgeted items that have been fully appropriated and for which the funds remained unencumbered,” Alitce wrote. “The trial court did not exceed its authority by ordering the Board and the Auditor to process, approve, and pay invoices submitted by the Sheriff related to the Second 2022 CHI Contract.”

The case is Lake County Board of Commissioners, et. al. v. Lake County Sheriff Oscar Martinez, Jr., in his official capacity, 22A-PL-1559.

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Nov. 23

L.W. v. State of Indiana

22A-JV-1138

Teen’s blood draw from fatal wreck must be suppressed

A teen involved in a fatal wreck will have her blood draw results suppressed after the Court of Appeals of Indiana determined the police officer at the scene violated her rights by failing to tell her she had the right to speak with her mother privately before getting tested.

In April 2021, officer Matt Fox of the Fortville Police Department was dispatched to investigate a serious motor vehicle crash. Upon arrival at the scene, he learned L.W., who had been driving an SUV, had collided with motorcyclist Guy Washburn.

Washburn died of his injuries while L.W. was unhurt.

Fox found L.W. on a curb crying, with her mother, who had been called to the scene, sitting next to her.

L.W.’s mother told the officer that her daughter was 17 years old. In turn, he told L.W.’s mother that whenever there is a crash with serious injuries, “We have to draw your daughter’s blood. (OK)? That’s just the law.”

Fox then stated L.W. was not under arrest, and “it’s all a formality.” Additionally, he said his investigation would not necessarily result in “criminal charges” being filed.

Fox then produced an implied consent advisement, which he gave to L.W. The teen indicated she agreed to the blood draw, and Fox explained to her that he would transport her to the hospital for the procedure, with her mother driving separately.

He said the blood draw was “required by state law” and again called it a “formality.” Also, he told L.W. she would be allowed to go home after the blood draw.

For her part, L.W. said she did not remember the details of the accident, did not see the motorcycle and may have fallen asleep while driving.

Upon arriving at a nearby hospital, L.W.’s mother signed a form consenting to the blood draw. The state alleges subsequent testing of the sample revealed the presence of a metabolite of THC, a controlled substance.

Fox later admitted he had not advised L.W. at the crash site, in the police vehicle or at the hospital that she had a right to consult with her mother before agreeing to a blood draw. He agreed it would have taken only “10 seconds” at most to provide that advisement.

The state later filed a delinquency petition alleging L.W. was a delinquent child for acts that, if committed by an adult, would have amounted to causing death when operating a vehicle with a schedule I or II controlled substance or its metabolite in the blood, a Level 4 felony, and reckless homicide, a Level 5 felony.

L.W. responded with a motion to suppress all evidence obtained as a result of the blood draw, claiming the evidence was obtained in violation of federal and state constitutional protections against unreasonable search and seizure. In a subsequent brief, she argued she had not been given an opportunity to speak privately with her mother prior to consenting to the blood draw, in violation of Indiana law.

The Hancock Circuit Court denied the motion, and an appeal ensued.

Before the Court of Appeals, judges reversed, finding L.W.’s rights were violated and the blood draw should be suppressed.

“The evidence of THC metabolite in L.W.’s blood was obtained only after L.W. and her mother consented to the blood draw. Their consent was invalid, despite the implied consent advisement and the advisement provided by the phlebotomist, because they were not advised of their right to talk privately in advance of deciding whether to consent,” Senior Judge Ezra Friedlander wrote.

“Further, they both testified they would have exercised their right to talk privately if Officer Fox had informed them of that right,” Friedlander continued. The State’s claim that L.W. was required to prove she would have declined to consent after conferring with her mother improperly places the burden of proof on L.W. in the harmless error analysis. Further, because L.W. and her mother were deprived of their right to privately discuss the blood draw, any conclusions as to what they would have decided to do if they had been allowed to converse would be speculative at best.”

The case of L.W. v. State of Indiana, 22A-JV-1138, was thus remanded with instructions for the trial court to grant the motion to suppress.

Luis Angel Benitez v. State of Indiana  

22A-CR-1044 

Sentence revision not warranted for man kicked out of drug court

A man who was kicked out of drug court for a variety of violations did not convince the Court of Appeals of Indiana that his explanations for the violations were valid.

While serving a sentence on home detention for his conviction of unlawful possession in August 2020, law enforcement discovered methamphetamine in Luis Angel Benitez’s home. Benitez was subsequently charged with Level 6 felony possession of meth.

Benitez’s placement on home detention in the initial unlawful possession case, Cause No. F3-173, was subsequently revoked, and he was ordered to serve 410 days in the Indiana Department of Correction.

The Dubois Superior Court also sentenced Benitez to 547 days for his new possession offense, to run consecutively to his sentence in F3-173. However, the court stayed the 547-day sentence on the condition that he successfully complete a drug court program.

But that didn’t happen. Benitez began serving his sentence for the Level 6 felony in September 2021, and he quickly accumulated seven violations during his short stint in the drug court program. The violations included failing to actually start the drug court program, failing to check in on multiple occasions, being late and having an inappropriate relationship.

When the state moved to terminate his participation in the drug court program, Benitez argued that he had a “plausible explanation” for each violation. But the trial court found the multiple violations “make() a statement that (Benitez was) just not making much of an effort in drug court.”

As such, his participation in the program was terminated and he was ordered to serve 305 days in the DOC.

The appellate court affirmed in Luis Angel Benitez v. State of Indiana, 22A-CR-1044, finding that trial court did not abuse its discretion in terminating Benitez’s participation.

Contrary to Benitez’s assertions, the COA noted, the trial court did consider his testimony related to the violations.

“In other words, the court considered Benitez’s purported justifications for the violations but did not give them any weight,” Judge L. Mark Bailey wrote. “Based on the evidence presented at the hearing, which included Benitez’s own admission that he committed seven violations, the court was well within its discretion to terminate his participation in the drug court program.”

The COA also ruled that the imposition of Benitez’s previously suspended 305-day sentence following his termination was not inappropriate in light of the nature of the offense and his character and, therefore, did not warrant review and revision under Indiana Appellate Rule 7(B). It described drug court as being akin to probation and, as such, Benitez’s argument failed.

“Because Appellate Rule 7(B) review is not available in post-sentence probation violation proceedings, we hold that it is similarly not available in proceedings following the termination of a defendant’s participation in a drug court program,” Bailey concluded.

In a footnote, the COA added that apart from Benitez’s argument that the trial court abused its discretion when it terminated his participation in the drug court program, he never made any argument that the trial court abused its discretion when it ordered him to serve his previously suspended sentence.

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Nov. 28

Nickalas James Kedrowitz v. State of Indiana

22A-CR-457

COA upholds murder convictions, 100-year sentence for teen convicted in siblings’ suffocation deaths

An Indiana teen convicted in adult court of killing two of his younger siblings has failed to convince the Court of Appeals of Indiana to toss his murder convictions or his 100-year sentence.

Chief Judge Cale Bradford wrote for the unanimous COA panel in a 41-page opinion in Nickalas James Kedrowitz v. State of Indiana, 22A-CR-457.

Appellant-defendant Nickalas Kedrowitz was 13 years old in May 2017 when he suffocated his 2½-year-old half sister D.M. with a towel while giving her a bath. About three months later, Kedrowitz suffocated 11-month-old N.R. — the son of his mother’s boyfriend and his “de facto sibling” — with a blanket while putting the child to bed.

A child in need of services case was subsequently opened, and during an interview as part of that case, Kedrowitz said he had “freed” D.M. and N.R. He later confessed to his great-aunt, uncle, grandmother, a court-appointed special advocate and a counselor, telling his great aunt he had suffocated his siblings to “protect” them from “the kind of life that [he was] leading.”

Kedrowitz was then admitted to a psychiatric facility as part of his CHINS case in January 2018. The following September, the state filed a delinquency petition alleging he had committed what would be two counts of murder if committed by an adult and asked the juvenile court to waive jurisdiction.

The teen subsequently underwent multiple competency evaluations, which yielded mixed results. Ultimately, after a four-day competency hearing, the juvenile court found Kedrowitz competent, crediting the testimony of two court-appointed psychologists and pointing to Kedrowitz’s positive academic performance.

The juvenile court then waived jurisdiction, and Kedrowitz proceeded to trial on two murder charges in Ripley Circuit Court. A jury found him guilty as charged, and he was sentenced to 50 years on each charge, to be served consecutively.

On appeal, Kedrowitz argued the juvenile court erred in finding him competent and in waiving its jurisdiction. He also claimed that the Ripley Circuit Court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction over his case, and that the trial court abused its discretion and violated his constitutional rights in sentencing him.

Affirming first on the question of competency, the Court of Appeals held, “The juvenile court engaged in a thorough inquiry into Kedrowitz’s competence, appointing three doctors to examine him and holding multiple hearings at which the defense was afforded every opportunity to present and challenge evidence.”

“The juvenile court issued a detailed order setting forth the extensive evidence on which it had relied to find Kedrowitz competent and explaining why it had not credited the contrary evidence,” Chief Judge Bradford continued.

As for the question of waiver, “Kedrowitz concedes that the State met its burden to prove that there was probable cause to believe he committed murder when he was at least twelve years old and that there is therefore a statutory presumption that he should be waived to adult court,” Bradford wrote. “That leaves only the question of whether the juvenile court abused its discretion by finding that Kedrowitz failed to meet his burden of proving that it would be in his best interests and in the best interests of the safety and welfare of the community for his case to remain in the juvenile-justice system.”

Answering that question, the COA affirmed the juvenile court’s waiver of jurisdiction, writing that “unlike the juvenile justice system, which would end all supervision and treatment at the age of twenty-one, the adult justice system would combine treatment with the long-term supervision Kedrowitz needs given his serious criminal conduct.”

Two amici curiae weighed in on the question of whether the Ripley Circuit Court had subject-matter jurisdiction over an alleged juvenile delinquent like Kedrowitz. The Indiana Public Defender Council argued the adult court lacked such jurisdiction, while the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council argued the opposite.

Agreeing with IPAC and the state, the appellate court pointed to multiple statutes including Indiana Code §§ 33-28-1-2(a), 31-30-1-1(1) and 31-30-3-4, among others.

“The General Assembly … has never removed all subject-matter jurisdiction from circuit courts with respect to prohibited criminal conduct committed by juveniles,” Bradford wrote. “… When all of these statutes are read together, the General Assembly has made abundantly clear its intent to allow circuit courts to exercise criminal jurisdiction over minors who are alleged to have committed delinquent acts under certain circumstances.

“… Moreover,” Bradford added, “the Indiana Supreme Court has repeatedly and consistently upheld the validity of juvenile court waivers and the criminal convictions of waived juveniles tried in criminal courts.”

The appellate court rejected Kedrowitz’s argument that the Indiana Supreme Court’s decision in State v. Neukam, 189 N.E.3d 152 (Ind. 2022), “effectively nullified all of the statutes allowing permissive or presumptive waiver of a juvenile into adult court by depriving the Ripley Circuit Court of jurisdiction to hear his case.”

“To get straight to the point, Neukam addressed a different jurisdictional question, one that arose in the absence of a juvenile court waiver, and, by its own terms, did not reach the validity of the waiver statutes,” the chief judge wrote. “… We will therefore restrict ourselves to the holding of Neukam — which does not address the waiver of juvenile delinquency cases — and decline Kedrowitz and IPDC’s request to rely on obiter dictum to essentially nullify almost an entire chapter of the Indiana Code.”

The Indiana Public Defender Council also argued the trial court had given Kedrowitz an unconstitutional effective life sentence in sentencing him to an aggregate of 100 years.

But in upholding that sentence, the COA found no abuse of discretion or constitutional violation. Specifically, the appellate court upheld the trial court’s findings of aggravators and mitigators and noted the 100-year sentence is “far shorter than the 130-year sentence that could have been imposed.”

Likewise, the appellate court rejected Kedrowitz’s final argument that his sentence violated Article 1, Sections 16 and 18 of the Indiana Constitution.

“As the State points out … Kedrowitz’s argument is based entirely on his personal characteristics, not the ‘nature of [his] offense[s,]’ and it notes that there is no authority for the proposition that such an offender-based argument is cognizable pursuant to Article 1, Section 16,” Bradford concluded. He added, “… Kedrowitz can obtain no relief by arguing that his sentence violates Section 18, and his and IPDC’s arguments are based solely on a particular, individualized application of that system.”

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Nov. 30

Crystal LaMotte v. Stephen R. LaMotte, Jr.

21A-DR-2608

COA remands divorce case after mother’s due process rights were violated

A divorcing couple must return to court after the Court of Appeals of Indiana determined the mother’s due process rights were violated in previous court proceedings.

Crystal LaMotte and Stephen R. LaMotte Jr. were married in August 1995 and have three children. In 2018, the mother filed for divorce.

Before the hearing on her dissolution petition, Crystal filed a written request for findings of fact and conclusions of law. In November 2020, Marion Superior Court Magistrate Judge Kimberly Mattingly held a two-day dissolution hearing.

The issues before Mattingly were Crystal’s request for rehabilitative maintenance, custody of the children, parenting time with the children and a distribution of the marital assets. Witnesses provided conflicting testimony regarding property values, the best interests of the children and Crystal’s need for rehabilitative maintenance.

At some point before Mattingly reported factual findings and conclusions thereon to the trial court judge, she left her position.

Stephen subsequently filed a petition asking for a ruling on the pending issues, explaining that although Crystal was requesting that the entire matter be retried, he objected to a retrial. He asked the trial court to either issue Mattingly’s ruling or to review the evidence and issue a ruling without the necessity of a new trial.

Meanwhile, Crystal filed a request for a final hearing and an objection to Stephen’s petition to rule on the pending issues.

In August 2021, Judge Marshelle Dawkins Broadwell held a hearing limited to custody and parenting time issues. During the hearing, Crystal made “a continuing objection to the manner in which th[e] hearing [was] being conducted[,]” reminded the judge that she had requested a new hearing on all issues, and argued that she needed to call additional witnesses.

Broadwell, however, explained that she had read the transcript of the November 2020 hearing and was going to proceed on the limited hearing.

Two months later, Broadwell issued an order distributing the marital assets and denying Crystal’s request for rehabilitative maintenance. The judge also awarded sole legal and physical custody of A.L. to Stephen while giving Crystal parenting time.

Crystal filed a motion to correct error requesting a new final hearing. She argued that “it was error for the Court to deny her request to have the judicial officer who was issuing findings of fact and conclusions of law hear all the testimony and the evidence and that this error deprived [Mother] of due process of law.”

The motion was denied and an appeal ensued.

Before the Court of Appeals, judges reversed, agreeing with Crystal that her due process rights were violated.

In its reasoning, the COA heavily relied on In re D.P., 994 N.E.2d 1228 (Ind. Ct. App. 2013), calling the cases “analogous.”

“Judge Broadwell could not have properly resolved questions of credibility and weight of the evidence from the November 2020 hearing because she did not have an opportunity to hear that evidence or observe the demeanor of those witnesses,” Judge Rudolph Pyle wrote. “To hold otherwise would be to grant (a) power of review to Judge that is not even claimed by this Court on appeal.

“Having concluded that Mother’s due process rights were violated, we reverse the trial court’s judgment and remand this case to the trial court for a new dissolution hearing on all issues,” Pyle concluded.

The case is Crystal LaMotte v. Stephen R. LaMotte Jr., 21A-DR-2608.•

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