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Sunday, January 19, 2014

Ind. Courts - Check out the newest 2014 summaries of bills of interest to the judiciary; and a look at the CJ's legislative requests in the State of the Judiciary (are they DOA?)

Check out the second weekly installment of the Legislative Update for the 2012 legislative session, from The Indiana Judicial Center.

This week's reports are dated Jan. 17th. Keep scrolling down to see those from the first week of this year's session, dated Jan. 10th.

The "summaries of bills of interest to the judiciary heard this week in committee" is of bills in the first house committee.

ILB: Note that committees generally meet only once each week and that the last day for 3rd reading of Senate bills in the Senate is Wed., Feb. 5. That means that Senate Committees have at most only two meetings remaining to consider Senate bills, this coming week and the next.

Note that the deadline for filing Senate bills was Jan. 10th.

Chief Justice Dickson's State of the Judiciary speech was Jan. 15th. Among the items mentioned at the end of his speech, the Chief Justice listed:

  1. Bringing the Judgment Docket, an ancient but statutory court record, into the digital age. The Court has had a special ad hoc committee, part of our Records Management Committee, working with various stakeholders, including county clerks and others, in an effort to modernize this relic of the quill pen era. We need your help.

  2. Fixing the Marion County Township Small Claims Courts. Our present system has been the subject of ridicule by the Wall Street Journal, and local newspaper and television reporters launched investigations into the system. A task force co-chaired by Court of Appeals Judge John Baker and Senior Judge Betty Barteau held hearings and made a comprehensive report recommending changes urgently needed. Local leadership and changes in court rules, however, can only scratch the surface. Systemic change is imperative, and this requires legislative action.
Were these requests for this session, or for next session?

The ILB could find no legislation introducted this session on either judgment dockets or the Marion County small claims courts. An ILB inquiry to the Court press office ("Can you point me to the legislative measures prepared to implement these requests?") returned no response.

Looking first at judgment dockets, the Indiana Commission on Courts, a permanent group (IC 33-23-10) which meets during the interim, is the origin of most legislation dealing with the judicial branch that is considered each year by the General Assembly.

Here is the Nov. 2013 Final Report of the Commission on Courts. From p. 5 of the Report:

The legislative branch and the judicial branch are separate and co-equal branches of state government. The Commission on Courts was established to give the Indiana General Assembly adequate time to study legislative proposals that will affect the judicial branch.

At its fourth meeting on October 8, 2013, the Commission heard testimony concerning the contents of judgment dockets. Details can be found in the minutes of that meeting. The attachments to the minutes include the testimony of Justice David, who included draft legislation in his presentation. However, the Commission did not make a recommendation on this topic in its final report and thus introduced no legislation.

To check if legislation had been introduced independently, I tried to look at the LSA/GA "subject index" (which does not seem to work) and then tried to look at the citation list, one of the most important tools for following legislation during the session, for IC 33-32-3-2, which is the cite J. David's proposal would have amended. But the new LSA/GA cite list also does not seem to work, or even exist any longer!

Looking now at "Fixing the Marion County Township Small Claims Courts", the topic was never mentioned in the meetings of the 2013 Indiana Commission on the Courts. As far as I can determine (with the limited tools now available), no legislation has been introduced on the topic in the 2014 General Assembly.

The Task Force created to evaluate the Marion County Small Claims Courts issued its 33-page report on May 1, 2012; see this ILB post for details. The Task Force presented a number of recommendations, some of them in the alternative.

In this May 31, 2013 ILB post, the ILB wrote about a long story, with video (still available) by Sandra Chapman of WTHR.com titled "Small Claims: Big Injustice," where the abuses detailed continued to be the same as had been reported on a year earlier, prior to the Task Force investigation.

In this Aug. 4, 2013 ILB entry, I wrote:

Today's long story by Marisa Kwiatkowski and Alex Campbell adds new information about the problematic operations of the Marion County small claims courts - about which stories have been accumulating now for several years, back to this July 18, 2011 report in the Wall Street Journal, headed "In Debt Collecting, Location Matters". * * *

It appears that Marion County legislators of both parties have little interest in changing the status quo. Not even a study committee was proposed during the last session. This seems like it would have been an ideal topic for the Indiana Commission on Courts, created by IC 33-23-10, which already has had three meetings this summer.

So, to conclude, there was no legislative interest in either 2013 or 2014 in dealing with the Marion County small claims court issues. If change is to be considered by the General Assemby, it looks now like the earliest time will be in 2015, and even then only if at least a study committee bill is passed this year on the topic.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on January 19, 2014 10:40 AM
Posted to Indiana Courts