Wednesday, November 26, 2014
Ind. Courts - COA hears oral argument re funding dispute between the East Chicago City Council and its city court
Dan Carden reports this morning in the NWI Times:
The Indiana Court of Appeals heard oral arguments Tuesday in a funding dispute between the East Chicago City Council and its city court that could set a statewide precedent for whether and how city and town courts have their budgets cut.The case is Gilda Orange, et al v. The Honorable Sonya A. Morris. You may watch the oral argument here. The panel consisted of Judges Barnes, Bradford and Brown.
Facing a nearly $5 million revenue shortfall, the East Chicago City Council in October 2012 warned all departments, including the city court, they would be required to reduce spending by 10 to 15 percent for the 2013 calendar year.
East Chicago City Judge Sonya Morris sued the council when it appropriated only $750,322 of her $833,691 budget request. She claimed the court could not operate without the additional funding.
Following a bench trial, Lake Circuit Judge George Paras agreed and ordered the council provide the city court an additional $65,000, which the council did. The council also fully funded Morris' 2014 budget request to avoid a second lawsuit.
In its appeal, the council's attorney, Jon Laramore, argued Morris failed to prove she was unable to reduce court expenses, noting that city and town courts in Hobart, Merrillville and Schererville hear more cases at one-third the cost of the East Chicago City Court.
"She never identified what would be cut if it had to be cut," Laramore said. "There must be some room in that budget to make reductions."
Morris' attorney, Margaret Christensen, argued the city court is unlike other city departments because it is vested with independent judicial authority. As such, the council cannot unilaterally reduce the court's spending, she said.
"There was sufficient evidence there would be impairment to court functions," Christensen said.
The three appellate judges agreed the City Council can eliminate the city court, but puzzled over how the council could reduce court spending if the judge claims a reduction will harm court operations.
They also debated Christensen's request that the council be required to pay Morris' appellate attorney fees, since the council is using city tax revenue to pay their own appellate attorney fees.