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Thursday, September 27, 2007

Ind. Decisions - More on: Supreme Court issues two anticipated mandate decisions today

Updating this ILB entry from yesterday (or simply scroll down one), Ben Zion Hershberg of the Louisville Courier Journal writes on yesterday's Supreme Court decision in Clark County Council and Clark County Auditor v. Daniel F. Donahue, Cecile A. Blau, Vicki Carmichael, and Steven M. Fleece, the probation fees case. Some quotes:

In a case watched closely by judges statewide, the Indiana Supreme Court said yesterday that Clark County's judges -- not the County Council -- have the authority to determine how to use about $500,000 in probation fees collected annually.

But the court also upheld the council's appropriation authority, saying the council can determine how much of the fees are spent from year to year.

Clark County Superior Court 3 Judge Steven Fleece called the decision a powerful victory for the judges and estimated the council will have to repay the local courts "several hundred thousand dollars" for spending fees on court costs that the Supreme Court said are not allowed.

But Scott Lewis, a lawyer for the council, said the ruling was "a split decision" because it said the council can decide how much will be appropriated for use by the courts in a given year. The council has more authority than the judges recognized in their arguments, he said.

Fleece responded, "If it was a split decision, it was split in our favor 99.9 percent and .1 percent" for the council.

David Lewis, a lawyer representing Clark County's four elected judges, said the ruling is an important victory for his clients and other judges across the state.

"It clarifies the relationship between the council and the judges" and gives the judges the authority to determine how the fees are used to support probation activities, said David Lewis, who is not related to Scott Lewis.

The Supreme Court did not determine how much money, if any, the council must repay the courts. That issue will go back to the trial judge for a ruling or may be settled by agreement between the council and the judges.

The dispute began in late 2004 when the council, struggling with a fiscal crisis, began appropriating probation fees to pay various court expenses.

The judges argued that state law strictly restricted the use of such fees to supplement the salaries of probation officers and probation program expenses at the discretion of the courts.

State law says such fees can't be used to replace county general fund money that is spent on the courts, the judges argued. Making the judges rely on fees raised from people being sentenced to pay a large part of court operating expenses would put their objectivity at risk, they said.

Special Judge Elaine Brown of Dubois County ruled in favor of the judges in March 2006, ordering the council to repay hundreds of thousands of dollars in probation fees the council appropriated for court expenses.

The council appealed, and after mediation failed, the Supreme Court heard arguments in December.

The Supreme Court agreed with most of the judges' arguments. In its decision, the court said, "The language of the statute itself and its legislative history make clear that it was contrary to law" for the council to use probation fees to pay court costs other than probation-related expenses budgeted by the judges.

The only coverage of the second Supreme Court opinion yesterday, In Re: Order for Mandate of Funds; Montgomery County Council v. Hon. Thomas K. Milligan, Hon. David A. Ault and Hon. Peggy Q. Lohorn, , dealing with court employee salaries, is this brief AP story, which reports:
Montgomery County officials must raise the pay of nine court employees to make their salaries more competitive with counterparts in other Indiana counties, the Indiana Supreme Court has ruled.

The justices on Wednesday modified a judicial mandate issued in September 2006 by Special Judge Julian L. Ridlen of Cass Circuit Court. Ridlen's ruling upheld an August 2005 mandate issued by Montgomery County's three judges that required the county to increase pay for each court's reporter, administrative assistant and secretary/bailiff.

The judges said they were losing staff to higher-paying jobs, but county officials argued that the county could not afford the raises.

The state Supreme Court said judges can order that court employees be paid enough to attract and keep workers.

However, the raises it ordered for court employees were smaller than those in the original mandate.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on September 27, 2007 08:15 AM
Posted to Ind. Sup.Ct. Decisions