Indiana Supreme Court splits but still denies multiple transfer petitions

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A dispute between a divorced husband and wife that became more inflamed when the arbitrator submitted, and the trial court adopted, an erroneous report caused a split in the Indiana Supreme Court over the decision not to grant transfer.

The decision not to accept the petition to transfer filed in Richard F. Ashley, Jr. v. Caitilin Ashley, 21A-DR-2014, was among the 19 transfer petitions denied for the week that ended Dec. 9.

Chief Justice Loretta Rush dissented in four of the denials.

Rush wrote a separate opinion, joined by Justice Christopher Goff, dissenting from the denial of transfer to the case of Joseph Kellams v. State of Indiana, 22A-CR-200.

Likewise, the chief justice voted for transfer in Antonio Dion Lane, Jr. v. State of Indiana, 22A-CR-275, a case challenging a sentencing enhancement and raising double jeopardy claims, and in Steven M. Rosenbaum v. Indiana Property Real Estate LLC, 21A-PL-2543, an eviction case in which a former tenant claimed a small claims court violated his right to a trial by jury.

Also, Rush, joined by Justice Geoffrey Slaughter, voted for transfer in Ashley.

The Ashleys were ordered by the Marion Superior Court to resolve their dispute over the sale of certain real property through arbitration. Katherine Harmon, the arbitrator, submitted an initial report that ordered Richard Ashley to pay his ex-wife about $32,000 in damages and $55,000 in attorney fees.

After the trial court entered the arbitrator’s initial order as its judgment, Richard Ashley filed a motion to stay enforcement of the order.

Harmon then notified the trial court that her report was incorrect. She filed an amended order, which provided for a payment to Richard Ashley for about $59,000 and did not include any provision for attorney fees.

Subsequently, Ashley moved for relief from judgment under Indiana Trial Rule 60(A), asserting the arbitrator’s submission of an incorrect document was a clerical error.

The Marion Superior Court set aside the initial order and entered the amended order as the judgment. However, when Caitlin Ashley filed a motion to correct error, the trial court reversed and reinstated the initial order.

On appeal, the Court of Appeals of Indiana found the trial court was correct in granting the motion for relief but abused its discretion by reinstating the erroneous initial order.

“The Arbitrator was akin to a judge in resolving the parties’ disputes, and her mistake — the submission of the wrong document for entry of judgment — was not a mistake resulting from the exercise of her judicial function and cannot be reasonably attributed to the exercise of judicial consideration or discretion,” Judge Paul Mathias wrote for the Court of Appeals. “It was, rather, a clearly demonstrable mechanical error, not an error in substance.”

Separately, Goff was the lone vote to accept transfer in Axel Domingo Diego v. State of Indiana, 22A-CR-331, which involved a question about the admissibility of incriminating statements given to police without being given Miranda warnings.

The justices previously ruled in that case in June of last year, with a divided court reversing the suppression of Diego’s statements. Goff dissented from that ruling, arguing the defendant’s language barrier prevented him from understanding that he was free to leave the interrogation.

Finally, all justices concurred in denying transfer to Christian Toledo Rojo v. State of Indiana, 22A-CR-652, a case addressing marijuana possession.

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