Lake Co. must pay probation officers’ legal expenses, COA rules

Lake County must foot the bill for legal expenses incurred by two probation officers in a federal lawsuit brought by a probationer, the Indiana Court of Appeals has ruled.

In 2015, probationer Lorena Bostic filed a federal complaint against the Lake County Board of Commissioners, five criminal judges, and probation officers Jan Parsons and Miroslav Radiceski, alleging her constitutional rights had been violated. The Indiana attorney general declined to represent Parsons and Radiceski, finding the county was responsible for their defense in the federal case, which is still pending.

Thus, Lake County filed for declaratory relief, arguing the state was required to represent and indemnify the probation officers. The county moved for partial summary judgment and asked that the officers be deemed state employees, but the Marion Superior Court declined. Instead, the court granted summary judgment to the state, the OAG, the Lake County Probation Department, the Lake Superior Criminal Courts and the probation officers.

The Court of Appeals affirmed the grant of summary judgment to the appellees, with Judge Paul Mathias pointing to Indiana Code § 11-13-1-1. That statute provides that Lake County probation officers “serve at the pleasure of” the Lake Superior Court and “are directly responsible to and subject to orders of the court.” Probation officers are also paid by the county under the statute, which specifies that “[p]robation officers are entitled to their actual expenses necessarily incurred in the performance of their duties.”

“Thus, if Lake County probation officers’ legal expenses are actual expenses necessarily incurred in the performance of [the officers’] duties,’ then Lake County is responsible for those costs,” Mathias wrote. The court found the legal expenses fit within the statutory language, pointing to its decisions in Mears v. Lake County Council, 709 N.E.2d 747 (Ind. Ct. App. 1999), and Delaware County Circuit Court v. Indiana Civil Rights Commission, 719 N.E.2d 417 (Ind. Ct. App. 1999).

“In line with our holdings in Mears and Delaware County, we conclude that ‘actual expenses necessarily incurred in the performance of [probation officers’] duties,’ I.C. § 11-13-1-1(c), include the legal costs of defending probation officers who are sued for acts committed while serving in their official capacities. And in the federal litigation, Bostic sued the Lake County Probation Department, Jan Parsons, in her official capacity as the Director of the Felony Probation Department, and her probation officer, for acts that she alleges occurred while she was subject to the probation department’s supervision,” Mathias wrote.

“Thus,” he concluded,” the legal costs of defending the probation officers falls within the ambit of subsection 11-13-1-1(c) and are the responsibility of Lake County.”

The case is 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 Officer of felony Probation Department of the Superior Courts of Lake County, Criminal Division, et al., 20A-MI-1527.

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