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[SUPREME] Indiana Supreme Court Creates Task Force to Evaluate Marion County Small Claims Courts
Start Date: 2/14/2012
End Date: 2/14/2012
Entry Description
The Indiana Supreme Court has created a task force to review the practices the procedures used in the Marion County Small Claims Courts.  Critical reports in the national press suggest litigants in those courts do not always have the same access to justice as litigants in other Indiana courts.  As part of the review, the Court has directed public hearings be held.  Ultimately the Supreme Court will determine whether any changes are needed in the Marion County Small Claims Courts.  

The nine Marion County Small Claims Courts primarily handle collection disputes and landlord-tenant claims involving up to $6,000.  In 2010, the courts handled approximately 69,500 new cases.  Supreme Court Rules require small claims court trials to “be informal, with the sole objective of dispensing speedy justice.”  In all other Indiana counties, small claims cases are part of the regular caseload of the circuit and superior courts—not a separate court.  

The reported allegations against the courts include accusations that large filers, such as property managers and collection companies, receive special treatment in the courts.  For example, an alleged practice involves “forum shopping,” which means the plaintiff files a case in a court that lacks reliable access to public transportation, in hopes that the defendant will not be able to attend the hearing and a default judgment in favor of the company will be issued.   

The Marion County Small Claims Courts are organized along township lines and funded at the township level.  Questions have been raised regarding the township trustees’ influence on court staff and operating budgets, which affect judicial independence.  In several townships, the judges do not have input into the courts’ budgets and learn of changes or cutbacks only after the budget has been determined.  In other Indiana counties, judges go to the County Commissioners for budget approvals.  Marion County Small Claims Courts also charge different court costs than other Indiana courts.

The Marion County Small Claims Court judges, with the participation of Circuit Court Judge Louis Rosenberg, have started to take action in response to these allegations, including a plan to post brochures detailing litigants’ rights and responsibilities in the courtrooms.  

The task force is made-up of Indiana Court of Appeals Judge John Baker and Senior Judge Betty Barteau.  Both have extensive experience at every level of the Indiana court system, including small claims cases.  They will gather information by meeting with the judges and staff and from public hearings.  The hearings will be scheduled for late February and early March in Perry and Pike Townships.   The goal is to get feedback from small claims litigants and attorneys.  

After reviewing current practices and procedures, the task force will report to the Indiana Supreme Court Committee on Rules of Practice and Procedure.  The task force may make recommendations on needed adjustments in the courts depending on what it uncovers.  The Rules Committee will make recommendations to the Indiana Supreme Court about any necessary changes in rules or procedures in the Marion County Small Claims Courts.  The Supreme Court will determine whether any procedural rules need to be changed. 
Location Information:
Marion County
IN
Marion
Contact Information:
Name: Kathryn Dolan
Phone: 317-234-4722
Email: kdolan@courts.state.in.us
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Entry Type:
Press Release
Entry Category:
  • Alerts and Notification
  • Announcements
  • IN.gov Category:
  • Law & Justice
  • Agency Name
    Courts, Indiana

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