Friday, March 06, 2015
Ind. Courts - How is the General Assembly dealing with Marion County Court issues?
How is the 2015 General Assembly dealing with two issues facing the Marion County Court system?
- Fixing how Marion County judges are selected. On Oct. 9, 2014, the ILB reported "District Court rules for plaintiffs in challenge to Marion County judicial elections method." A follow-up news story the next day reported:
Because of the stay and the fact that the next judicial election won't be until 2018, the state legislature will have four years to figure out how to fix the system, said Joel Schumm, a professor at the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law in Indianapolis.
Schumm, appellate court Judge John Baker and former Supreme Court Justice Ted Boehm advocate for Marion County to move to a merit selection system, such as the ones used in Lake and St. Joseph counties.
Under merit selection, a judicial nominating commission made up of lawyers and laypeople interviews applicants and recommends candidates to the governor, who makes the final decision.
Proponents of such a system include the American Judicature Society, American Bar Association and Indiana State Bar Association.
"I think the selection of judges should be as far removed from the need to raise money as possible," Boehm said. "In a large metropolitan area, it's impractical to know who these judges are and to exercise an intelligent vote."
Baker said there have long been problems with Marion County's "pay-to-play" system, in which the major political parties ask judicial candidates seeking endorsement to pay thousands of dollars to the party.
"I'm glad that somebody had the gumption to challenge it," Baker said, "but now that we know it's wrong, we have to come up with something that's right."
- Marion County small claims courts. These courts have been at issue since the front-page WSJ story on July 18, 2011, on the Pike Twp. small claims court being a mecca for debt collection: "Although the state requires suits to be filed in the county where the borrower lives, in Marion County and one other county, collectors can choose among township courts—each with a single judge. The courts handle all collection disputes involving up to $6,000." The Supreme Court in Feb. 2012 created a special task force to look into the issue. Star reporter Carrie Ritchie tweeted on Feb. 20, 2012: "The small claims court story really hit a nerve with readers. I've never gotten this many phone calls on one story."
The 33-page Task Force report was submitted May 1, 2012. Here is an update from May 31, 2013, another from July 16, 2013. On Aug. 4, 2013, the Star had a long story headed "Small claims, bigger problems: Unique rules in Marion County raise questions of fairness."
On Jan. 19, 2014, the ILB asked: "a look at the CJ's legislative requests in the State of the Judiciary (are they DOA?)" The request:
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.On July 2, 2014, the ILB reported on the 7th Circuit opinion Suesz v. Med-1 Solutions, holding that Marion County small claims courts are judicial districts for the purposes of the FDCPA. The federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act requires a collector of consumer debts to file its debt-collection suit in the “judicial district or similar legal entity” where the contract was signed or where the debtor resides.)
On July 14, 2014 the ILB posted ""Judges call for an end to Marion County’s small claims court system" and this follow-up. Later that same day, the ILB did a Q&A with "an individual who is very well-attuned to Marion County politics." The question:
Marion county legislators of both parties appear to be totally against reforming our small claims court system. That does not bode well for any change. Can you tell me why there is such total resistance to legislative change, including merging the 9 small claims courts into the county court system?On Sept. 2, 2014, the ILB reported that the: "Supreme Court has this morning released the July 2014 Final Report prepared by the National Center for State Courts on the Marion County small claims court. The Report recommends (see p. 23) that the small claims courts transition into a unified section within the Civil Division of the Superior Court."
So what is happening in the 2015 General Assembly?
Senator Mike Young has introduced the only bill dealing with Marion county courts: SB 523. It has passed the Senate and is in House Courts and Criminal Code. Would the current bill address and resolve either of these issues? You be the judge:
Synopsis: Marion County small claims. Establishes three small claims court districts within Marion County, each consisting of three township small claims courts. Provides that candidates for small claims court judge run at-large within each district, with the three candidates receiving the greatest number of votes within a district being elected. Establishes a procedure for assigning judges elected at-large within a district to a particular township small claims court, requires the judges to be full time judges, and fixes the judges' salary at 70% of the salary of the Marion County circuit court judge. Increases the small claims jurisdictional amount to $8,000. Requires that two dollars of the township docket fee be transferred monthly to Decatur and Franklin township (each receiving one dollar). Makes conforming amendments.
Effective: Upon passage.
Posted by Marcia Oddi on March 6, 2015 10:00 AM
Posted to Indiana Courts