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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Ind. Decisions - Supreme Court issues opinion in St. Joe. judicial mandate case

In In the Matter of Mandate of Funds; St. Joseph County Commissioners and St. Joseph County Council v. The Hon. Peter J. Nemeth and the St. Joseph Probate Court, a 25-page, 3-2 opinion, Justice Sullivan writes:

This case addresses disputes between the St. Joseph Probate Court and the St. Joseph County Commissioners over land, renovations, and salaries at the Thomas M. Frederick Juvenile Justice Center in St. Joseph County. As explained below, we approve certain renovations such as those prompted by the need to close down some residential sections of the Center to save money. We disapprove the mandate for a new courtroom and most of the mandated salary in-creases. We remand the dispute over land adjoining the Center for an adjudication on the merits. * * *

From time to time – as has happened in this case – a disagreement over court resources between a judge and county government will prove to be so intractable as to require litigation. In 1976, this Court adopted T.R. 60.5, establishing orderly procedures for the resolution of intra-county disagreements about court funding. * * *

In 2008, an informal working group of county government representatives and trial court judges proposed to us several changes in T.R. 60.5. First, they suggested that the rule explicitly provide for referring such disagreements to mediation. Second, they suggested that when it be-came necessary to appoint a special judge to adjudicate such disagreements, that special judge not be a sitting or prior judge but instead a practicing lawyer. And third, they suggested that the rule specify that any attorney fees awarded by a special judge in such cases be paid at a rate not greater than the reasonable and customary hourly rate for an attorney in the county. We very much appreciated the suggestions of the working group and adopted their proposals by Order dated February 4, 2009.

This is the first case utilizing the 2009 amended procedures of T.R. 60.5. * * *

In Mandate 1, the court states that when the County adopted an ordinance for issuance of bonds for the construction of the Center in 1993, the ordinance provided that the bond proceeds were to be used to pay for the cost of acquiring, constructing, and equipping the Center, which was to be located in an area bounded by four named streets. The bonds were accompanied by an official statement declaring that the proceeds were to be used to purchase land and construct and equip the Center. As constructed, the Center stands on the western part of the designated land, while the eastern part of that land remains undeveloped.

After Ivy Tech State College expressed an interest in purchasing the eastern part of the land, the court met with the St. Joseph County Commissioners and stated that the eastern land is necessary for effective operation of juvenile justice in the County. Determining that the Com-missioners would sell off the eastern land unless ordered otherwise, the court issued Mandate 1, stating that a transfer of the land to Ivy Tech or another buyer would violate the terms of the bond issue and restrict the ability of the court to expand the Center or juvenile services in the future. Mandate 1 directs that the Commissioners shall not sell, assign, or otherwise transfer any interest in the land without the court's consent. * * *

Relevant to Mandate 2, the court in November 2008 proposed certain renovations in the Center, replacement of some of its equipment, and transfers of funds within court-related ac-counts in the County's 2008 budget to make available money for those renovations and replace-ments. A bill transferring the sum of $401,929 from various court-related accounts within the County's 2008 budget to other court-related accounts within the budget was approved by the St. Joseph County Council and the Commissioners in December 2008. But later that month when the court timely submitted specific purchase order requests accompanied by vendor/contractor estimates, quotes, and proposals for particular renovations and replacements, the Commissioners did not approve many of the purchase order requests. Mandate 2 describes the unapproved purchases as necessary to juvenile justice in the County and orders the Council and the Commis-sioners to approve purchase order requests totaling $313,788.74.3

Prior to Mandate 3, the court submitted to the Council and Commissioners a budget re-quest for 2009 that included $60,208 in annual raises for eight employees at the Center: two court employees and six employees of the juvenile detention facility. Judge Nemeth met with the Council and Commissioners (hereinafter collectively “Commissioners”) and attempted to demonstrate the need for those raises, but the Commissioners did not approve them. Mandate 3 orders the Commissioners to approve the appropriation of funds for those raises and to use the County's supplemental Juvenile Probation Services Fund (“JPS Fund”) to pay for the raises. * * *

The Mandates at issue in this case were issued by Judge Nemeth on February 4, 2009. As such, they triggered the procedures of T.R. 60.5 as newly amended.

Initially, we referred these cases for mediation. When mediation proved unsuccessful, we appointed William F. Satterlee, III, a practicing lawyer in Valparaiso, as special judge to hear the matters and make findings regarding the mandates. * * *

As indicated above, we reverse the dismissal of Mandate 1 and remand it for a trial. We affirm in part and reverse in part Mandate 2 and Mandate 3 as indicated above. Finally, we affirm the award of attorney fees and remand for a determination and award of the court's appellate attorney fees.

Shepard, C.J., and Rucker, J., concur.
Dickson, J., concurs in part and dissents in part with a separate opinion in which Boehm, J., con-curs.

Dickson, Justice, concurring and dissenting

I concur except as to Part IV, in which the Court reverses the dismissal of Mandate 1 and remands it for further proceedings. Believing that the special judge was correct to dismiss Mandate 1, I dissent to this part of the opinion. In all other respects, I concur.

Boehm, J., concurs.

[Emphases by ILB]

Posted by Marcia Oddi on June 22, 2010 11:11 AM
Posted to Ind. Sup.Ct. Decisions