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Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Ind. Courts - "Goshen mayor Allan Kauffman suggests cutting city court"

Angelle Barbazon has a long story today in the Elkhart Truth subheaded "Goshen City Court has been operating at a deficit for at least 10 years. Mayor Allan Kauffman says it’s time to close the doors." The story gives a thorough look at the issue. Here are some quotes:

GOSHEN — Local leaders are expected to decide this week whether to keep the doors of Goshen City Court open.

Mayor Allan Kauffman will request Tuesday evening, May 20, to close the court that handles criminal misdemeanor cases, city ordinance violations and traffic infractions at the end of this year in the name of the city’s budget.

The city court has operated at a deficit for at least 10 years, according to income and expense data provided by Kauffman. The court ended 2013 with a $164,210 loss, and in 2012, the court ended up $120,949 in the red.

Indiana code has allowed city councils to abolish city courts every fourth year since 2006. If the city does not vote whether to keep the court open this year, the council will have to wait until 2018 to revisit the issue.

“State of Indiana has preferred to eliminate city courts for some time,” Kauffman said in a letter to city council members. “First push was because many were not efficiently managed. Judges still don’t need to be attorneys, and there were some squirrelly decisions coming from city courts. The most inefficient and ineffective city courts went away years ago. The better ones survived.”

Kauffman noted, however, the Goshen City Court “has not had a history of judges other than attorneys, nor a reputation for weird decisions.” The court is led by Judge Gretchen Lund, who has expressed concerns about the mayor’s request.

“In fact, Judge Lund has been a most effective, efficient judge,” Kauffman said. “I’ve been impressed both with her demeanor on the bench with the public and with her administrative skills. She doesn’t abide inefficiency from court or probation employees.”

Lund is seeking election for judge of Elkhart Superior Court 4, which is headed by Judge Olga Stickel. Lund is unopposed, and if elected in the fall, her term would begin Jan. 1, 2015.

Kauffman noted that Stickel’s court handles many of the same type of cases that the city court takes on.

“The probability is that most of the current cases that do not run through a future Ordinance Violations Bureau in the Clerk-Treasurer's Office would end up in Judge Lund’s court,” Kauffman said. “Prosecutor (Curtis) Hill has made comment to (Goshen Police) Chief (Wade) Branson that he would keep most caseload in Goshen, so our residents and police officers would not be unnecessarily inconvenienced by having to travel to Elkhart.”

The city court’s largest expense – roughly $182,000 – in 2013 was for full-time and part-time personnel.

Other office expenses include the service of a public defender and interpreter. Anyone who appears in the city court for a criminal charge is entitled to a public defender and interpreter if he is unable to pay for an attorney on his own.

More from the story:
[The current city court judge] Lund argued that the court “should not be in a position where it must generate revenue to survive.”

“Such a premise destroys the integrity of the judicial process and greatly undermines the mission of this court,” she added.

There were 801 ordinance violations filed in Goshen City Court in 2012 and 455 violations in 2013, according to Lund. As of Thursday, May 15, she said 70 ordinance violations were filed, and of those, three were filed in May. She expects roughly 200 ordinance violations to come through to the city court this year.

“Again, this court will not participate in efforts to drum up business,” Lund said. “The mission of this court is to administer the cases that are filed in this court, which include approximately 1,000 misdemeanor cases filed in 2013, 1,500 traffic infraction cases filed in 2013 and the small amount of ordinance cases filed by the city.”

ILB: The ILB looked back at its long, long list of earlier posts including the term "city court" and found many interesting entries, including several proposing abolition of an existing city court, several proposing creation of such a court (noting the revenue that could be generated), a number concerning discipline of city court judges.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on May 20, 2014 08:33 AM
Posted to Indiana Courts