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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Ind. Courts - "The legal battle over fines levied against absent Indiana House Democrats isn’t so much about whether they must pay the fines as it is about the collection process."

One probably can't state it more clearly than Tracy Warner does in the lede to his opinion piece today in the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette. The case is Berry v. Crawford, see Jan. 27th ILB entry here.

More from the FWJG:

Democrats argue that House Speaker Brian Bosma can’t just call state Auditor Tim Berry and tell him to withhold the fines from Democrats’ paychecks any more than a debt collector can call a company and tell them to withhold past-due payments from a worker’s check.

Just as a debt collector must go through the courts to garnish wages, the Democrats say House Republican leaders must – as a matter of law – follow the legal process to take money out of a paycheck.

Though a Marion County judge has initially agreed with the Democrats – whose attorney is Mark GiaQuinta of Fort Wayne – the Indiana Supreme Court’s action last week may well indicate the state’s justices won’t go along with that reasoning. Instead, by taking the case, the court may be signaling it will rule the courts should stay out of the fight.

The high court took jurisdiction of the case from the Marion County court. Contrary to pressing legal issues such as school vouchers and the possible removal of Charlie White as secretary of state, there is no emergency involving the fines that should require the state’s high court to step in immediately.

Justice Frank Sullivan indicated as much in a dissent on accepting the case immediately, writing that the case fails to live up to the “emergency” standards required to bypass the normal appeals process. Sullivan wrote that the state “will not suffer any substantial expense, damage, or injury” by waiting for the process to follow its usual course.

The Supreme Court’s action may well indicate that the majority of justices agree with Attorney General Greg Zoeller and other state officials, who argue that the courts have no power to resolve a legislative dispute and, as Zoeller said, “should not allow the judicial system to be used as a legislative tactic during the heat of the session.”

Posted by Marcia Oddi on January 31, 2012 09:26 AM
Posted to Ind. Trial Ct. Decisions