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Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Ind. Courts - "Improved but not perfect: Marion County Small Claims Courts two years later"

The publication of the Indiana Courts, Court Times, has posted a useful article dated June 26th with that heading, by Elizabeth Dalton (Staff Attorney & Mortgage Foreclosure Task Force Project Manager, Indiana Supreme Court, Division of State Court Admin.) Some quotes:

Today, two years after the Task Force published its report, under the leadership of Marion County Circuit Court Judge Louis Rosenberg and in collaboration with the Advisory Committee and the township judges, a total of 33 new local rules have been enacted to help institute these recommended reforms in all Marion County Small Claims Courts. The Circuit Court has also recently contracted with the National Center for State Courts (“NCSC”) to perform an analysis of the nine small claims courts and recommend further reforms.

“It’s very possible to have reform within the constraints of the township system,” Judge Rosenberg said. “It’s tough but it can be done—and we’ve made a lot of progress.” One of these improvements is in the atmosphere of the small claims courts. According to Judge Rosenberg, the judges are now focused more on the need to emphasize and protect litigants’ rights, particularly defendants’ rights, and have taken steps to do so. “These are not the same small claims courts we had before.”

A key difference between small claims courts and Circuit and Superior courts is the fact that most small claims litigants are pro se, or unrepresented. They may not be aware of the various procedures required by the small claims system—such as serving the defendant with the summons and notice of claim. Judge Rosenberg explained that one of the primary purposes of the small claims system is to provide a forum where litigants can act without attorneys. Likewise, he said one of the primary roles of the small claims judge is to ensure that one party isn’t benefiting simply because he or she has an attorney.

This caught my eye:
Judge Rosenberg cites the establishment of more uniformity among the small claims courts as another success. Rather than seeing each township as its own island, the judges are beginning to visualize these courts as divisions of a countywide system. Because so many cases (excluding landlord/tenant cases) are transferred between townships, it is important for each to have similar standards and procedures. The nine township judges are moving closer to a unified system, and in March 2014, elected Lawrence Township Judge Clark Rehme as their Chief Judge. Judge Rehme will take over the Circuit Court’s role of setting the agenda and presiding over the regular meetings of the township judges.
Some issues not addressed. The article was written before the 7th Circuit's en banc ruling July 2nd in Suesz, and does not discuss venue (see the end of the ILB Suesz post). It mentions 33 new local rules, but does not link to them. They are available at pp. 200-213 of this document. No mention is made of Chief Justice Dickson's call earlier this year where he said: "... changes in court rules, however, can only scratch the surface. Systemic change is imperative, and this requires legislative action."

[More] The was legislation on the Marion County Small Claims courts in the 2014 session, in the form of SB 366, which did not become law. See this post from Feb. 2nd, which includes a summary of the bill from the Indiana Judicial Center. (This proposal may reappear this summer in an interim committee.)

Posted by Marcia Oddi on July 9, 2014 09:09 AM
Posted to Indiana Courts