Indiana counties and probation departments are siding with Lake County in a dispute with the state over who is required to represent and indemnify two probation officers accused of sexual misconduct and retaliation. The dispute will go before the Indiana Supreme Court on petition to transfer next week.
Lake County had requested the Indiana Attorney General’s Office defend the two probation officers, Jan Parsons and Miroslav Radiceski, against a lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana. The attorney general declined, asserting the county is responsible for representing the officers.
The Marion Superior Court agreed with the attorney general, and the Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed. Lake County petitioned for transfer to the Indiana Supreme Court, which is now scheduled to hear oral arguments on petition to transfer on Oct. 28 in Lake County Board of Commissioners and Lake County Council v. State of Indiana, Office of the Attorney General of the State of Indiana, Lake County Probation Department, Jan Parsons in her official capacity as Director and Chief Probation Office of Felony Probation Department of the Superior Courts of Lake County, Criminal Division, et al., 20A-MI-1527.
Prior to the arguments, the Supreme Court invited interested parties to file amicus curiae briefs.
The Association of Indiana Counties Inc., the Indiana Association of County Commissioners and the Indiana County Councils Association joined together to file a brief, while the Probation Officers Professional Association of Indiana Inc. filed separately.
In affirming the trial court, the appellate panel highlighted Indiana statute and caselaw as reflecting the state’s longstanding policy that county governments finance the operation of the state trial court system. Specifically, the Court of Appeals held that under Indiana Code § 11-13-1-1( c), Lake County has the responsibility to cover the legal costs of defending the probation officers.
The brief filed jointly by the associations of the counties, county commissioners and county councils faulted the Court of Appeals for failing to consider I.C. 4-6-2-1.5. This statute, they argued, is more specific and expressly allocates to the attorney general the responsibility of defending state employees.
“In short, as employees of the state, probation officers are entitled to the same defense and indemnification afforded to other state employees,” the associations asserted in the brief. “The statute relied upon by the Court of Appeals does not override the specific statutory mandate of I.C. § 4-6-2-1.5, nor does it support the anomalous treatment of probation officers as state employees not entitled to a defense or indemnification by the State.”
Similarly, the probation officers association in its brief described the appellate court’s decision as a “significant departure from law or practice” by treating probation officers as county rather than state employees.
Moreover, the association pointed to the Northern District of Indiana’s 2014 decision in Scott v. Indiana. There a probation officer brought a lawsuit against the county, but the federal court dismissed, finding the state was the officer’s employer and should have been the named defendant rather than the county.
Oral arguments in the Lake County case will begin at 9 a.m. Oct. 28 in the Indiana Supreme Court’s Statehouse courtroom in downtown Indianapolis. Masks are required in the courtroom and public seating is limited for social distancing. A livestream will be provided.
Also on Oct. 28, the high court will hear arguments in Service Steel Warehouse Company, L.P. v. United States Steel Corporation, 21S-CC-408. There, the Lake Superior Court entered judgment for U.S. Steel on Service Steel Warehouse’s claim to foreclose on a mechanic’s lien, but the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed.
The justices granted transfer and will hear oral arguments at 10 a.m. The same masking and social distancing rules apply. A livestream will be available.