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Sunday, September 16, 2012

Ind. Gov't. - "Attorney General's office will handle DCS appellate court cases"

Tim Evans reported Sept. 13th in the Indianapolis Star:

Attorney General Greg Zoeller said Thursday he will reassume responsibility for Department of Child Services appellate court cases in the wake of a controversial attempt by DCS to block a newspaper from publishing information about a call to the agency’s child abuse hotline.

Zoeller, who earlier criticized DCS’ move as “inconsistent with the First Amendment,” cited a need for better communication, as well as more consistency and expertise in representing the interests of the state.

The new approach, which Zoeller announced will take effect by Jan. 1 at the latest, will replace the current process in which the attorney general’s office had granted permission for staff attorneys from DCS to handle cases in the Court of Appeals.

Attorneys from DCS will continue to represent the agency in cases at the local court level.

In a brief written response, DCS chief of staff John Ryan did not sound fully on board with the new plan.

“Because our first responsibility is to the safety of children,” Ryan said, “we believe exploration and discussion are needed before such a decision can be finalized.”

Informed of the agency’s response, Zoeller spokesman Bryan Corbin told The Indianapolis Star: “The decision to assume appellate representation is already finalized.” He said state law gives the attorney general sole authority to decide who will represent Indiana agencies. * * *

Zoeller said attorneys in his office have more expertise and experience in appellate matters, and that such cases set precedent that can affect other state agencies and interests.

“It’s not just due to the errors,” he said, “but really the numbers, the volume and the complexity of some of the cases. It’s just better to bring it all back in house.”

Zoeller said he was caught off guard by the motion DCS filed against the South Bend Tribune and thinks his own office could have done a better job of communication. “That’s one that I learned about on a Saturday,” he said, which is not the kind of communication that he wants and needs.

In hindsight, Zoeller said, the change “is probably something I should have done earlier.”

Here is the entire news release. Here also is the letter "formally outlining the new consent arrangement, reserving appellate representation of DCS to the Attorney General’s Office and trial representation of the agency to DCS."

ILB: For more on the role of the Attorney General vis-à-vis the three branches of government, see this ILB entry from Sept. 9, 2012.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on September 16, 2012 09:30 PM
Posted to Indiana Government