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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Ind. Courts - Much going on tomorrow (Wednesday), including public hearing at Pike Twp. Small Claims Court

As the ILB noted on Feb. 24th:

There are TWO BIG oral arguments next Wednesday, Feb. 29th. Not only the Charlie White civil case, being argued before our Indiana Supreme Court (see this ILB entry for summary and documents), but Armour v. Indianapolis, being argued before the SCOTUS. (See this ILB entry for links to all the documents in that appeal.)
And in addition, tomorrow evening is the time of the second public hearing of the task force created by the Supreme Court to review the practices the procedures used in the Marion County Small Claims Courts:
Pike Twp - 2/29/12 (Wednesday) at 6pm
Small Claims Court, 5665 Lafayette Road, Suite B, Indianapolis
Here is some of what was said in the news release re creating the task force (emphasis added by ILB):
The Indiana Supreme Court has created a task force to review the practices the procedures used in the Marion County Small Claims Courts. Critical reports in the national press suggest litigants in those courts do not always have the same access to justice as litigants in other Indiana courts. As part of the review, the Court has directed public hearings be held. Ultimately the Supreme Court will determine whether any changes are needed in the Marion County Small Claims Courts. * * *

The task force is made-up of Indiana Court of Appeals Judge John Baker and Senior Judge Betty Barteau. Both have extensive experience at every level of the Indiana court system, including small claims cases. They will gather information by meeting with the judges and staff and from public hearings. The hearings will be scheduled for late February and early March in Perry and Pike Townships. The goal is to get feedback from small claims litigants and attorneys.

The first hearing was last Wednesday in Perry Twp. The ILB has heard that at least half the audience at that hearing was made up of attorneys. Apparently no reporters attended.

The second hearing should be of particular interest because of its setting, Pike Twp., which was the focus of one of the "critical reports," a lengthy subscription-only story that appeared last July 18, 2011 in the Wall Street Journal, reported by Jessica Silver-Greenberg, that began:

MARION COUNTY, Ind.—For U.S. consumers with too many bills and not enough money, the end of the line is often a small-claims court like the one here in Pike Township.

Judge A. Douglas Stephens, who presides over all the township's small-claims cases, calls himself a "Renaissance redneck" and wears a small gun strapped to his ankle while on the bench. He says he has little patience for the "feeble protests" of people who try to dodge their financial obligations.

Shortly after his 2003 election, he recalls, two insurance executives in "bad suits" sat silently in the back of his courtroom to see if he would rule in favor of their company in a dispute involving damage from a car accident. He says he did, based on the facts.

These days, his calendar is packed with cases from many insurance companies—sometimes more than 200 a day—against residents who allegedly owe money for insurance premiums or car accidents. The defendants live not only in Pike Township but in townships all over Marion County. Judge Stephens says that American Family Mutual Insurance Co., based in Madison, Wis., files all its cases against county residents in his township because "they had a problem with another judge who was consistently too tough," whom he declines to name. Judge Stephens says he is "totally impartial." American Family declined to comment.

As companies and debt collectors try to collect on overdue bills that piled up during the financial crisis, the recession and their aftermath, they are borrowing a tactic from plaintiffs' lawyers: They shop around for the best places to bring their claims. Debt collectors aren't so much worried about whether a court will rule that the debtor owes the money—most cases are fairly clear-cut on that point—but about how aggressively collectors can pursue a debtor's assets.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on February 28, 2012 10:50 PM
Posted to Indiana Courts