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Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Ind. Courts - "A case for veto of court-expansion bill"

The ILB has had a long list of entries on HEA 1491, the bill now pending the Governor's signature, that would change the method of selection of judges in St. Joe County, plus add a new sixth panel to the Indiana Court of Appeals.

Today, in a featured letter to the editor in the Indianapolis Star, Joel M. Schumm, a clinical professor of Law at the Indiana University School of Law in Indianapolis, who argues frequently before the Court of Appeals, makes a strong case against the addition of a sixth panel at this time:

Imagine a company does its job more efficiently than any similar company anywhere in the country. Its workload has remained steady over the last couple of years but has declined thus far in 2009. Employees might worry about downsizing in light of the tough economic times. Not in the world of government, though. It's time for a 20 percent expansion.

House Bill 1491 is government waste at its counterintuitive worst. At a price tag of more than $2 million each year, it adds three new judges and 16 new staff positions to the 15-judge Indiana Court of Appeals. This is the same court that is rightfully proud of being the most efficient appellate court in the country. The average age of pending cases fell from 1.6 months in 2007 to 1.1 months in 2008. The number of new cases filed increased by 0.2 percent (2,756 in 2008 compared to 2,748 in 2007). The legislature added five new staff attorney positions in 2007 to help with the caseload.

Regardless of staffing, appellate courts cannot process cases in much less than a month. The judge, with the help of a law clerk, must craft and revise an opinion, which must then be circulated to two other judges on the panel deciding the case. The case is then circulated to the entire court a week before it is issued.

Why increase the size of the most efficient appellate court in the country by 20 percent in the midst of one of the worst recessions in decades? The new judges would begin in 2011, which would allow Gov. Mitch Daniels an opportunity to make the appointments to a court currently occupied by 13 appointees of Democratic governors. The Indiana Constitution makes clear these appointments must be made "without regard to political affiliation," though. There is not a Democratic or Republican position in most types of cases, and judges of both parties take an oath to uphold the same Constitution. In a recent mayoral election appeal, a Daniels appointee sided with the Democratic candidate, while a Bayh appointee sided with the Republican candidate. That's how it should work.

But the larger question looms: What are these three new judges and 16 new staff members going to do if caseloads remain relatively flat, and the court is already processing cases as quickly as they come through the door? Wouldn't we all be better off if Daniels instead appointed 40 or 50 new teachers? There would be plenty of work waiting for them.

Daniels should veto this bill. The General Assembly can revisit the issue next year (or the year after) if caseloads skyrocket or workload slows the court even to third or fourth place out of 50 states.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on May 5, 2009 06:54 AM
Posted to Indiana Courts