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Saturday, January 26, 2013

Indd. Courts - A fresh look at: "Center Twp. Trustee is attempting to move the location of the Center Township of Marion County small claims court"

The ILB has been following this matter since Scott Olsen's 2011 IBJ story, posted Sept. 19th of that year. His long, still available report is headed "Small claims court could move from City-County Building" and begins:

The Center Township trustee is pushing to move the township's small claims court from the downtown Indianapolis City-County Building to the Julia M. Carson Government Center in what is being promoted as a cost-saving measure.

Trustee Eugene Akers’ plan, which could be approved at a Wednesday township board meeting, is not without controversy, however. The court’s judge, Michelle Smith Scott, is adamantly opposed to the move.

“If the trustee for Center [Township] is able to do this and is allowed to interfere with the court over the objection of the judge,” she said, “I don’t think it sets a good precedent.”

A second IBJ story from Sept. 22nd was titled "Township board OKs small claims court move." A quote:
The proposal calls for the court to take the 2,200-square-foot space vacated by 300 East, a restaurant and bar at the Carson Center that closed Sept. 1. The small claims court now occupies 1,600 square feet in the basement of the City-County Building.
This Dec. 14, 2011 ILB entry is headed "Supreme Court names special judge to hear Center Twp. small claims court's mandate action" and quotes from the Supreme Court's order.

The ILB put together this Nov. 12, 2012 entry after acquiring and uploading all the documents in the mandate action.

Today Tim Evans of the Indianapolis Star has a lengthy, front-page story on the dispute, which is currently awaiting action by the Supreme Court. The headline, which some may read as indicating the paper's preference for the dispute's resolution, is "Center Township small claims court facilities ill-equipped for staggering volume of cases: Center Township trustee has renovated space to house the court, but judge wants to keep operations at the City-County Building."

Some quotes from today's long story:

A special judge appointed by the Indiana Supreme Court to look into the dispute agreed with Scott in a decision issued in June. By then, however, Akers had moved ahead with more than $500,000 in renovations to create the courtroom and offices.

Special Judge Charles L. Berger found the City-County Building is the preferred location because of its accessibility, safety, convenience and access to other public offices. * * *

The dispute, however, reaches far beyond a territorial fight among two elected officials right to taxpayer pocketbooks.

Besides the $500,000 in township funds spent with no guarantee the new court space in the Carson Center ever will be used, it will take at least another $50,000 in public money to upgrade the court's facilities in the City-County Building if the special judge's ruling is upheld by the Indiana Supreme Court .

"Center Township accepted the risk," Berger wrote in his ruling. "The fact that a court facility is now available at the Carson Center cannot dictate the outcome of this action."

Akers appealed that ruling, and the legal fight over the court's need for adequate facilities -- and, ultimately, its location -- is now up to the state's highest court. * * *

The City-County Building has clear benefits to Indianapolis attorney J.F. Beatty, who handles a number of cases in the court.

"From my standpoint and for the people the court is supposed to serve, the City-County Building is the best," said Beatty, whose Downtown office is about a block away.

Beatty added that the court has been in the City-County Building for years and people are familiar with that location. He also said the present site is safer because of security checks at the entrance and a large law enforcement presence.

"Safety is a real concern of ours every day in every small claims court," Beatty said.

The ILB disagrees with this statement in today's story:
Judicial mandates -- basically an order demanding a political authority, such as a trustee, to provide funding "reasonably necessary for the operation of the court" -- are uncommon in Indiana. Since July 1, 2001, according to Supreme Court records, only two others have been filed in the state.
ILB: Many county commissioners throughout the State, and many legislators, will likely agree with me that judicial mandate actions are not uncommon. Here is a very long list of ILB entries on judicial mandates; the first entry in the list was posted in 2005.

Also in 2005 I published a Res Gestae article on judicial mandates, titled "Separation of Powers in the County Courthouse." Two of the cases discussed may be relevant here. In one, from 1887, the county commissioners in Vigo County often closed down the courthouse elevator in the afternoons while the judges on the third floor were still holding court. Finally, to quote from my article, the judge of the Vigo circuit court issued the following order:
It is hereby ordered that the elevator running from the basement to the court-room floor be run and operated in accordance with the following schedule. ...
The case made its way to the Supreme Court, which wrote:
[T]he court ... possesses all powers necessary for the free and untrammeled exercise of its functions. Considering, therefore, the facts concerning the Vigo county courthouse ..., there can be but little doubt that the order made by the court as to the running of the elevator was a proper exercise of the inherent powers of the court.
The article also discusses a 1986 Crawford County mandate case, involving:
... the reassignment by the Crawford commissioners of Room 7 in the courthouse, from the clerk’s office to the department of public welfare. The Supreme Court rejected the commissioner’s argument that the present mandate was not within the scope of TR 60.5 because it did not specifically seek “funds.” Citing Stout, the Court found the contention without merit: “Our case law illustrates that Ind. R.Tr.P. 60.5 applies to mandates in addition to those specifically for ‘funds.’” Again citing Stout, the Court stated: “A court of general jurisdiction cannot be controlled, directed, or impeded in its functions by any other department of government.”

Posted by Marcia Oddi on January 26, 2013 04:32 PM
Posted to Indiana Courts