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Friday, December 19, 2014

Ind. Courts - "City Judge prevails in East Chicago court funding fight"

Yesterday's Court of Appeals opinion in Gilda Orange, et al., Members of the Common Council of the City of East Chicago, Ind. v. Hon. Sonya A. Morris (ILB post here) is the subject of a story today by Dan Carden of the NWI Times. Some quotes:

The East Chicago City Council is prohibited from reducing spending on its city court if the judge can show the budget cut will impair operations, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled Thursday.

In a 3-0 decision, the appellate panel agreed with Lake Circuit Judge George Paras who ordered the council to restore $65,000 of the $83,000 it sought to cut from the city court's 2013 spending plan.

Appeals Judge Cale Bradford said East Chicago City Judge Sonya Morris sufficiently demonstrated the city's budget reduction would force the layoff of essential employees and require the city court to cease operations.

Specifically, Bradford said, Morris established the budget cut presented "a clear and present danger of impairment of operations" because East Chicago's City Court is a smaller percentage of the city budget than city courts in nearby municipalities, total court salaries were lower in 2012 than 2002 and the challenges presented by a low-income and Spanish-speaking population.

The appeals court was not persuaded by the City Council's claim that its 16 percent budget reduction spread across all city departments also should affect the $832,000 spent annually on its court.

"The council ... did not consider budget reductions already made by the city court, develop any understanding of court administration or make an independent determination of the reasonableness of the city court’s operations before cutting its budget by 10 percent," Bradford said.

Morris also won approval from the appeals court to require the City Council to pay her attorney fees for the appellate portion of her budget challenge.

The ruling, which still can be appealed to the Indiana Supreme Court, sets a precedent where city councils can eliminate their city courts, but cannot reduce court budgets without the judge's consent.

ILB: It seems Indiana city courts and city judges have been much in the news recently. There have been a number of stories about discussions by city governments re closing their city courts, such as this one from May 20, headed "Goshen mayor Allan Kauffman suggests cutting city court." A quote:
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. [ILB: Here is the law, IC 33-35]

In addition, of course, are the recent reports about city judges in Muncie and Clarksville.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on December 19, 2014 10:09 AM
Posted to Ind. App.Ct. Decisions