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Saturday, February 16, 2008

Ind. Decisions - Yet more on: All is not over in the Clerk County probation fees dispute

This ILB entry from 1/9/08 reported that, now that the motion to reconsider had been denied, both the Council and the judges hoped that the dispute could be quickly settled.

Today Ben Zion Hershberg of the LCJ reports, under the headline "Clark County, courts settle probation-fee dispute":

The Clark County Council agreed yesterday to pay $850,000 to the county's courts to settle a long-running dispute over who has authority to decide how fees paid to the courts by probationers can be spent.

The council also must pay an estimated $250,000 in legal fees for both sides in the dispute. The money will come from the county's Rainy Day Fund and a legal defense fund established for the case, Councilman Chuck Moore said.

Moore said he was pleased to have the issue resolved after more than three years of wrangling over a lawsuit that reached the Indiana Supreme Court.

"I'm glad it's behind us," said Council President David Abbott.

Superior Court Judge Steven Fleece, in a statement, said the judges also were glad to have the matter settled and "look forward to a cooperative relationship in the future."

Facing a budget crisis in 2004, the County Council started covering court costs that had been paid from the county's general fund with much of the $500,000 paid to the courts each year by people on probation.

The judges argued that state law gave the courts authority over probation fees and said the money could be used only to supplement probation services.

The judges sued the council over the issue in June 2005.

In February 2006, Special Judge Elaine Brown [*] ruled that the judges were right and ordered the council to reimburse hundreds of thousands of dollars that she said had been appropriated improperly.

The council appealed Brown's ruling to the Indiana Supreme Court, but in September the court issued a unanimous decision in favor of the judges.

The council then asked the Supreme Court to review its decision, saying that such a ruling could be disruptive to counties that might be in similar situations by requiring large repayments to their courts.

The Supreme Court denied the council's reconsideration request in January, and since then the council and judges have waited for a financial analysis to determine how much was owed. * * *

Accounting firm McCauley Nicolas & Co. calculated the reimbursement owed by the county at $991,839, Fleece said in a statement.

But he said the judges agreed to settle for $850,000 to conclude the case and save the county additional legal fees.

"The longer this thing went on, the more it ended up costing," Fleece said.

Much of the repayment -- $633,161 -- will go to Superior Court 3, Fleece's court, which had accumulated the largest amount of probation user fees. Clark Circuit Court will receive $55,880; Superior Court 1, $11,253; and Superior Court 2, $149,706.

"We will now use these probation user fees to improve programs intended to rehabilitate offenders," Fleece said, including drug court, community service, work release and special services for mentally ill offenders.

Here is a list of earlier ILB entries on the probation fees issue.
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*In an unrelated story, yesterday, Feb. 15, Judge Brown was named to the Court of Appeals by Gov. Daniels. See ILB entry here.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on February 16, 2008 09:14 AM
Posted to Ind. Sup.Ct. Decisions