Sunday, July 31, 2011

Are Big Screen, Hi-Definition Televisions Killing NASCAR?

Today I attended the Brickyard 400, courtesy of two free tickets given to a friend.  The last time I went to the Brickyard 400 was in 1995, the second year of its running.  The difference between the two years is striking.  In 1995, the grandstands were packed.  In 2010, the grandstands were half full.  Part of the stands on the Northeast corner had actually been blocked off completely due to the lack of attendance.

Granted the Indianapolis Motor Speedway isn't ideal for stock cars. The lack of steeply banked curves makes passing difficult.  The races at the Speedway too often resemble a train of cars, contrary to the bumping and passing that is traditional with NASCAR racing.

NASCAR used to brag that it provided the most popular spectator sport in the world.  But NASCAR's attendance is not only down at IMS, it is down throughout the sport.  Why?  Some may point to the less fan friendly changes made by NASCAR or other changes with the sport.  But here's another idea.

Go into many sports-crazed fans' houses and what do you find?  You find a high definition, big screen television set, often accompanied by surround sound and a DVR.  People have invested major sums in their home entertainment systems.  Do those same people want to spend time and money to drive across the country to attend a NASCAR race when they can experience it in high definition in their own homes?  Some will, but many won't, especially given the country's economic downturn.
Other spectator sports, especially NFL football, may scoff at the notion that modern television technology will lead to decreased attendance at games.  But are NFL officials whistling as they walk by the graveyard? 

The new NFL contract anticipates revenue rising from $9 billion to $20 billion.  Where is that money coming from?  Much of it will come from increasing ticket prices, a fact that caused former Indianapolis Star sportswriter Bill Benner to criticize the deal in a recent Indianapolis Business Journal column.  (Sorry...subscription is required.)  At some point, the cash-strapped Colts' fan is going to give up his trip to Lucas Oil Stadium to watch his favorite team from the confines of his home.

Other sports can scoff at the declining attendance dilemma NASCAR is facing.  But possibly, just possibly, the declining fortunes of NASCAR are simply the precursor for the future of all spectator sports.  At some point ticket prices will become so high that people will start staying home.  And when a person can watch the game on high definition, surround sound, big screen TV, can you blame him?

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Poll Commissioned by Lugar Campaign Reveals 35-Year Senator's Re-Election Bid in Trouble

Senator Richard Lugar
The most recent \poll, commissioned by Sen. Richard Lugar's campaign committee and conducted by American Viewpoint, shows the 35 year incumbent leading State Treasurer Richard Mourdock 45% to 31% with 23% undecided.   It has a margin of error of +/- 4 points.

Those numbers reveal extraordinary vulnerability for Lugar.  Even though it is a poll commissioned by the Lugar people, he doesn't even score 50% in his own party despite 35 years in the Senate.  Lugar only gets 45% of the support despite having 100% name ID.  Also, the fact that 23% of Republican primary voters are "undecided" about his re-election is troublesome for the Senator.  The fourteen point lead is nothing given the election is nine months away.

What I find stunning is that the Lugar people actually feel this is a good poll for them and were eager to release it in light of the Basswood Research poll commissioned by the pro-Mourdock Club for Growth which showed Mourdock leading Lugar 34-32.  Any objective political analyst would look at that poll and conclude the 35 year incumbent was very vulnerable.

Mike O'Brien writing for the pro-Lugar Capitol and Washington blog, however, sums up the results this way:
Senator Lugar’s campaign is resonating with primary voters. His support and job approval have improved since the beginning of the year, even in light of a major attack ad campaign against him immediately preceding this poll.
State Treasurer Richard Mourdock
Mourdock’s campaign has garnered no momentum. His support equals Lugar’s negatives and has not grown beyond that point.
I'm sure Mike knows enough about politics to know that he is doing nothing but spin. That is clearly not a good poll for Lugar.

On his blog Advance Indiana, Gary Welsh further highlights how off the mark the pro-Lugar spin is, concluding:
Interestingly, Lugar's campaign is spinning the American Viewpoint numbers as an indication his message is resonating with voters even though his poll numbers have dropped markedly over those cited by his campaign just months ago. Before Mourdock launched his campaign, Lugar's campaign released poll numbers indicating that Lugar was more popular than virtually any Indiana politician, including Gov. Mitch Daniels, with 66% of all voters viewing him favorably and only 19% viewing him unfavorably.
Exactly.  Senator Richard Lugar is in trouble and his own poll reveals it.

Friday, July 29, 2011

WRTV Exposes Mayor Ballard For Allegedly Campaigning Using Taxpayers' Money; Mayor's Spokesman Plays Veteran's Card in Response to Criticism

WRTV's Kara Kenney.
I have zero tolerance for these election year stunts where incumbents use taxpayer money to promote themselves.  WRTV's Kara Kenney reports:
Letters and fliers mailed out to hundreds of thousands of Indianapolis residents are at the center of a complaint against Mayor Greg Ballard, accusing him of using taxpayer money to campaign.

The Marion County Democratic Party has filed a complaint with the Marion County Election Board over letters, along with inserts included in recent water bills, touting Ballard's RebuildIndy initiative.

Both the insert and the letter each refer to Ballard three times, 6News' Kara Kenney reported.

"It's clearly political campaigning," said Party Chairman Ed Treacy. "It's about taxpayer dollars, and they're abusing taxpayer dollars for political ends."
...
Waterworks Board member Andrew Mallon, a Democrat appointed by Ballard, raised concerns about the fliers at an April board meeting in response to a constituent complaint.

"These are promotional materials, plain and simple," Mallon said. "They were not something that should be in our water bills when the person they're promoting is up for re-election."

Mallon works as one of the attorneys for the Democratic Party but said his concern has nothing to do with his political affiliation.

"Whether it's a Republican or Democrat, I think it's wrong," Mallon said.

Ballard spokesman Marc Lotter called the complaint a political distraction by the Democrats.

"(Democratic mayoral candidate) Melina Kennedy and her political allies have called our mayor, who's a Gulf War veteran, cowardly and gutless," Lotter said. "This is nothing more than the same political games we've come to expect from them."

Lotter said the mailings are a way to educate the public about everything from recycling to construction projects.

"We are undergoing the most extensive construction in the history of this city," Lotter said. "I'd say if we have some staff resources and tax dollars going to promote public safety and the safety of construction workers, I think that's money well spent."

...
The rest of the article or the video can be viewed by visiting this page.

Here is what the offending part of the water company insert says, without the formatting.

Indianapolis, Gregory A Ballard Mayor
REBUILD INDY
Department of Public Works

RebuildIndy is Mayor Greg Ballard's initiative to transform the City through investment in infrastructure improvements.  With RebuildIndy we are restoring deteriorating thoroughfares, residential streets, sidewalks and bridges, as well as addressing neighborhood drainage and flooding issues and demolishing unsalvagable abandoned homes that pose a public safety threat to neighborhoods.

These construction projects will create local jobs and ultimately increase public safety for neighborhoods and residents, which supports Mayor Ballard's commitment to make Indiana a more livable city.

*****
Unfortunately, the two county party leaders, Democrat Treacy and Republican Kyle Walker, cry wolf so often complaints they make get tuned out pretty quickly.  That's unfortunate because on this point, Treacy is exactly correct.  The water bill insert isn't about imparting information, it's about promoting the Mayor who is just over three months away from an election.   It's disgraceful that he's doing so on taxpayers dime.  However, given Ballard's utter disregard for the best interests of Indianapolis taxpayers in the policies he's pursued for 3 1/2 years, I guess one shouldn't be surprised by this stunt.

I know Lotter has a job to do, but playing the Marine Veteran card....really? (For the record, Ballard hasn't shown the guts to stand up to the profiteers who took over his administration shortly after election.)   Lotter is a city employee and his comments smack of partisan politics.  His claim that the insert can be defended as promoting public safety and the safety of construction workers is insulting to the intelligence of the residents of Indianapolis.  Obviously the insert is all about promoting Mayor Ballard.  As such, the Ballard campaign should reimburse the taxpayers of Indianapolis for the costs associated with this mailing.

Why Republican Bloggers Do Not Support Republican Mayor Greg Ballard

Jon Easter, Author of
Indy Democrat Blog
Over at the Indy Democrat blog, Jon Easter pens an interesting piece this morning discussing the dearth of public support for Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard on right-leaning blogs.  Indeed that is the case.   It's hard to find any Republican blogger who backs Ballard.  It appears Washington Street Politics was started to fill that void, but even that blog has faded into sporadic support for Ballard.  While speculation initially was that former City spokesman Robert Vane was behind the blog, Vane vehemently denies it and, having witnessed the writing style for months, I now concur that he isn't behind the blog.

The only right-leaning blogger who regularly supports Mayor Ballard is WXNT's radio host, Abdul Hakim-Shabazz.  Rumor has long been that Abdul is directly, or indirectly, on the campaign payroll.  I don't know if that is true, but it does seem curious that Abdul supports Ballard 100% even though he's pursuing policies as bad or worse than his predecessor Bart Peterson who Abdul had no problem criticizing.

What happened?

Gary Welsh of Advance Indiana and I were big supporters of Mayor Ballard when he was elected.   Over time, we gave up on Ballard as he betrayed his 2007 supporters and the conservative values we thought the retired Marine held.   There is nothing Ballard has done that remotely suggests he is a Republican, much less a conservative. 

I have always said the people who work for a candidate fall into two categories: 

  • True Believers - those people who are motivated to work for the candidate because they believe strongly in the issues and believe the candidate support those issues.
  • Opportunists - those people who are motivated to work for the candidate because they believe that they might receive some financial reward (such as a government contract or a job) for their work for the candidate.
Ballard's 2007 supporters included some Opportunists, but they were almost exclusively True Believers.  Today, the True Believers, disillusioned by a Mayor who for 3 1/2 years has betrayed them and their conservative values, have left the building.   It is only the Opportunists, people who cashed in during Ballard's first term or who hope to cash in during a second, left who support the Mayor.  You talk to the True Believers who worked for Mayor Ballard in 2007 and you'll find they absolutely despise Mayor Ballard.  There is nothing worse than when someone who you thought had your back plunges the knife of betrayal into it.  That has what Mayor Ballard has done again and again and again.

Most bloggers are drawn to the new media because of their strong belief in the issues, i.e. they fall into the True Believer category.  It's only natural that those who believe in conservative values enough to spend hours blogging, express dislike toward a Republican who has consistently betrayed those conservative values. 

Whenever I see a Republican blogging in support of Ballard, it is almost always an Opportunist who is benefiting or standing to benefit from the Ballard administration.  That is exactly why the author of the Washington Street Politics, the blog started to support Ballard, is anonymous.  If people found out the name, they'd know the motivation of the author of the blog is not conservative Republican issues, but opportunism.

Ironically, come November 9, 2011, it will be Republican bloggers blamed for sinking Ballard's re-election.  Instead fingers should be pointed to the Opportunists and Profiteers who put politically-naive Ballard on a course which made his reelection impossible.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Republican Gubernatorial Candidate Jim Wallace Releases Press Statement, First TV Commerical of Campaign

INDIANAPOLIS – Jim Wallace, Republican candidate for Governor of Indiana, has released his first television commercial for a multi-week advertising blitz that begins Thursday, July 28, throughout Indiana.

“This ad is designed to introduce businessman Jim Wallace to Hoosiers as he seeks his party’s nomination for Governor next May,” says Jeff Howe, Campaign Manager of the Wallace for Governor Committee. “Jim’s real-life experience managing businesses, working with tight budgets, and creating jobs has prepared him for the challenges of the Governor’s office. Jim’s ready to use his administrative expertise for the citizens of Indiana. And he’s ready to talk about real issues that affect Hoosiers.”

***************

The new commercial, which is apparently the first of a series, can be viewed below.   It a basic candidate intro spot (used to lead off most well-funded campaigns) that appears to be very well done.

New NASA Data Blows Hole In Global Warming Hypothesis; Turns Out Carbon Dioxide Emissions Trap Far Less Heat Than Claimed in Computer Models

James Taylor, senior fellow for environment policy at The Heartland Institute and managing editor of Environment & Climate News, writes on the Forbes blog about recent data assembled by NASA that blows a hole in the computer models supporting global warming:
NASA satellite data from the years 2000 through 2011 show the Earth’s atmosphere is allowing far more heat to be released into space than alarmist computer models have predicted, reports a new study in the peer-reviewed science journal Remote Sensing. The study indicates far less future global warming will occur than United Nations computer models have predicted, and supports prior studies indicating increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide trap far less heat than alarmists have claimed.

Study co-author Dr. Roy Spencer, a principal research scientist at the University of Alabama in Huntsville and U.S. Science Team Leader for the Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer flying on NASA’s Aqua satellite, reports that real-world data from NASA’s Terra satellite contradict multiple assumptions fed into alarmist computer models.

“The satellite observations suggest there is much more energy lost to space during and after warming than the climate models show,” Spencer said in a July 26 University of Alabama press release. “There is a huge discrepancy between the data and the forecasts that is especially big over the oceans.”

In addition to finding that far less heat is being trapped than alarmist computer models have predicted, the NASA satellite data show the atmosphere begins shedding heat into space long before United Nations computer models predicted.

....

The new NASA Terra satellite data are consistent with long-term NOAA and NASA data indicating atmospheric humidity and cirrus clouds are not increasing in the manner predicted by alarmist computer models. The Terra satellite data also support data collected by NASA’s ERBS satellite showing far more longwave radiation (and thus, heat) escaped into space between 1985 and 1999 than alarmist computer models had predicted. Together, the NASA ERBS and Terra satellite data show that for 25 years and counting, carbon dioxide emissions have directly and indirectly trapped far less heat than alarmist computer models have predicted.

In short, the central premise of alarmist global warming theory is that carbon dioxide emissions should be directly and indirectly trapping a certain amount of heat in the earth’s atmosphere and preventing it from escaping into space. Real-world measurements, however, show far less heat is being trapped in the earth’s atmosphere than the alarmist computer models predict, and far more heat is escaping into space than the alarmist computer models predict.

When objective NASA satellite data, reported in a peer-reviewed scientific journal, show a “huge discrepancy” between alarmist climate models and real-world facts, climate scientists, the media and our elected officials would be wise to take notice. Whether or not they do so will tell us a great deal about how honest the purveyors of global warming alarmism truly are.
To see the rest of the article, click here.

My guess is not very honest at all.

Attorney Robert Hammerle
On a related note, well-known Indianapolis defense attorney Robert Hammerle a few days ago penned a letter to the editor claiming that the unusually long stretch of 90 degree days this summer proved global warming.  Of course, we had an unusually cold, snowy winter and Hammerle didn't pen a column saying that proved an ice age is coming.  Hammerle also ignored the fact that the some of the warmer years this year would be replacing if the heat continues are in the 1930s. 

Hammerle also claims this July's dry spell proved global warming.  In fact, global warming models suggest we here in the United States would have just the opposite - increased precipitation.   But hey, Hammerle, as a criminal defense attorney, is an advocate and from what most people say, very good in his job.  His job is to ignore the facts that contradict his client's position and spin the rest of the facts in support of his client. While that is the way our legal system works, it is, thankfully, not the way science is supposed to work.

The climate has been changing on this planet for 4.5 billion years.  Obviously one hot month is too short of a period to prove a long term trend.  Likewise, the 140 year history of officially recorded temperatures is too short of a period to prove anything.  Long-term changes take millions of years and in the meantime shorter-term fluctuations last tens if not hundreds of thousands of years.  All the climate data should be looked at, not just that climate information that supports a particular political agenda.

It's a shame that science has been corrupted by politics involving in the global warming, er climate change, debate.  The public deserves better.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Council President Ryan Vaughn Claims Broad Ripple Parking Garage Will Have Two-Way, Buy-Sell Option; Vaughn's Claim Strains Any Credibility

Proposed Broad Ripple Parking Garage
WRTV's Kara Kenney continues her fine reporting on the proposed Broad Ripple Parking garage with a followup story today.  I found the comments by Council President Ryan Vaughn to be the most interesting.  Vaughn appears to be claiming that there will be a two-way, buy-sell option, something that I as someone who has done considerable work in real estate law has never seen:
Indianapolis leaders are negotiating an option with the developers of a proposed Broad Ripple parking garage that would allow the city to purchase the structure for a nominal fee, 6News has learned.

...
City-County Councilor Ryan Vaughn told 6News' Kara Kenney on Wednesday that the city will have some options under the agreement, which has yet to be finalized.

“If at any point the garage becomes a profitable venture, the city reserves the right to buy the garage back," Vaughn said. "Economic development is the biggest thing. If we have an opportunity to grow the business base there and we need parking, we might want to wrap that up in a deal."

...
Vaughn said that while the city reserves the right to purchase the garage, the developer will have the right to sell the garage to the city for a nominal fee, likely $1.

"They would sell it back if they continue to lose money or if we're holding the rates artificially low," Vaughn said. "In order to drive revenue, they may not find it's a profitable venture at all and send it back to the city."
To read the rest of the story or watch the video, click here.

It appears from what Vaughn is saying that:  1) if the garage makes money, the City has an option to purchase it for a $1;  2) if the garage loses money, Keystone has the option to sell it to the City for a $1.

Council President Ryan Vaughn
The BS meter just went off watching Kenney's report.  By definition, the garage will 1) make money; or 2) lose money.   Let's look at the two options associated with those scenarios.

CITY'S OPTION TO PURCHASE:   If the City could truly buy it for a $1 if the garage made money, why would Keystone Construction invest a dime in the structure?  No company is going to invest in a project that, if it proves profitable, can be taken away for a $1.  If you look at the details on this supposed option, I'm sure you'll find that it is impossible for the City to ever exercise it.

This reminds me of the 50 year ACS parking meter deal.  They added an every 10 year opt out provision so they could talk up the option to the media.  Once the details surrounding the 10 year opt out provision were examined closely, you realize it was impossible to ever exercise that option.   I bet it will be the same thing with this supposed option of the City to purchase a profitable garage for a $1.  It is just about having talking points for Vaughn and the Ballard administration.

As a side note, Vaughn claim regarding this option further validates my guess that the only money being spent to construct the garage is the taxpayers' and that the private partners aren't putting up anything.  If Keystone were investing millions in building the facility, would there even be a claim by Vaughn that the City could wipe out that investment with a $1?

KEYSTONE'S OPTION TO SELL:  This option would give Keystone the right to dump the garage back on the City if it is not making money.  Now that option I totally believe is part of the deal.  It is exactly the kind of sweetheart deal this City's leaders are renown for handing out.

I get the sense sometimes that Ryan Vaughn thinks everyone around him is so stupid, they'll believe anything he says no matter how big the lie.  Vaughn's claim of the two-way, buy-sell option on the parking garage is yet another example of Vaughn's arrogance as well as his complete disregard of the best interests of Indianapolis taxpayers.

Colorado Law Professor Rips Apart Methodology Used by Law Schools to Calculate Employment Data

Indiana Unversity Law School at Indianapolis
I linked to this April 25, 2011 New Republic piece in a previous post, but for the first time had a chance to sit down and read it more closely.   The article, written by Paul Campos, professor of law at the University of Colorado, should be MUST READING for anyone considering going to law school and whose decision might have been influenced by the fictional employment figures published by law schools:
This month, thousands of ambitious young people are asking themselves the same question: Does it make sense to invest $100,000 to $250,000, and the next three years of my life, to become officially qualified to work as a lawyer? For most people considering law school, this question is hardly an easy one. Law schools, however, make it much harder than it needs to be by publishing misleading data about their employment statistics. Many law schools all but explicitly promise that, within a few months of graduation, practically all their graduates will obtain jobs as lawyers, by trumpeting employment figures of 95 percent, 97 percent, and even 99.8 percent. The truth is that less than half will.

There are two main sources of information on post-law-school employment rates. One is U.S. News and World Report (USNWR), which publishes statistics for individual schools as part of its annual law-school rankings. These rankings, of course, are much reviled but even more greatly feared by deans and admissions officers. (Prospective law students pay very careful attention to the rankings, which means law schools must as well.) Until little more than a month ago, almost all 198 ABA-accredited law schools were reporting nine-month employment rates of more than 90 percent, and it was a rare top 100 school that had a rate of less than 95 percent. But last month, in the wake of criticisms that these figures were literally incredible, USNWR revised its employment statistics in an effort to combat some of the legerdemain law schools engaged in, such as excluding from their calculations graduates who described themselves as unemployed but not seeking work. The new USNWR percentages are therefore somewhat less inaccurate: Schools that, until a few weeks ago, were claiming one in 500 graduates were unemployed now claim one in 30 are, while those who were advertising 95 percent employment rates are saying one in six graduates don’t have jobs, and so on down the hierarchical line.

The other source is the National Association for Law Placement (NALP)—the group to which the ABA delegates the compiling of employment statistics that ABA-accredited law schools are required to report. According to the NALP, 88.2 percent of all law school graduates are “employed” within nine months of graduation. If we exclude people employed in non-legal jobs, and people doing part-time work, the NALP number drops to 62.9 percent.

There are a few problems, however, with even this lower number. The first is that it is only reported for law schools as a whole. NALP does not provide this number for individual schools, while USNWR does not report it at all. This means that the only school-specific information currently available to students is extremely misleading.

But the bigger problem is that the 62.9 percent figure is still too high. While it excludes non-legal jobs and part-time work, it does not exclude people in temporary positions. So it seems worth asking: How many of the graduates who report doing full-time legal work have permanent jobs—in the employment law sense of permanent—as opposed to doing temp work, such as being paid $20 an hour to proofread financial documents in a warehouse, or $12 an hour to do slightly glorified secretarial tasks?

...

When we take temporary employment into account, it appears that approximately 45 percent of 2010 graduates of this particular top-50 law school had real legal jobs nine months after graduation. And the overall number is likely lower, since it seems probable that the temporary employment figures for the graduates of almost any top 50 school would be better than the average outcome for the graduates of the 198 ABA-accredited law schools as a whole.
Colorado Law Professor Paul Campos
Even this grim figure, however, may be unduly optimistic. All these statistics are based on self-reporting, and neither law schools nor NALP audit the data they publish. In the course of my research, I audited a representative sample of individual graduate responses and found several instances of people describing themselves as employed permanently or full-time, when in fact they had temporary or part-time jobs (I found no instances of inaccuracies running in the other direction). Perhaps some graduates exaggerate their employment status out of embarrassment, or for strategic reasons, but, whatever their reasons might be, this apparently not uncommon practice suggests that the true employment rate should be lowered even further.
Yet even this does not exhaust the dire news for those about to enter the legal profession. Some schools have adopted the practice of placing their graduates in temporary positions, which, whatever the rationale, has the benefit of helping to inflate their employment numbers. For example, this winter the top 50 school referenced above hired at least two unemployed graduates for short-term internships. Last year, Georgetown’s law school paid three unemployed graduates $20 an hour to spend six weeks working in, of all places, its admissions office.
In the omitted portion, the author goes into more detail regarding his analysis of the real employment picture for lawyers and comments on the fact that even those who "win" the legal employment lottery employment often find the hours long and the work unrewarding.  I would add that the pay is often low and benefits you get with most private sector jobs are non-existent at most mid to small size law firms.  To see the entire article, click here.

For those interested, I am setting up a meeting to discuss these and related issues.  I talked about it here on my blog.  Information about the meeting is reprinted below:

****************************

TO: Indiana Attorneys, Law School Graduates and Law School Students

RE: Informal Meeting To Discuss Issues Related to the Legal Profession in Indiana

DATE and TIME: Tuesday, August 16, 2011, 7 p.m.

LOCATION: Indianapolis TBA (Will announce the exact place for the meeting about a week out.)

CONTACT: Paul K. Ogden, 317-297-9720, pogden297@comcast.net

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

New Poll Shows Mourdock and Sen. Lugar in Statistical Dead Heat

I've been reluctant to comment on this poll until I saw some of the methodology, but news organizations across the country are reporting it. This from Roll Call:
A new poll conducted for the Club for Growth showed Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) and his primary challenger, state Treasurer Richard Mourdock, in a statistical dead heat.

Mourdock had a small advantage over Lugar, 34 percent to 32 percent, in the Basswood Research poll released Tuesday. But Mourdock’s 2-point lead is within the poll’s 4.4-point margin of error.

The conservative, anti-tax organization has not endorsed Mourdock, but the Club for Growth President Chris Chocola has frequently criticized Lugar’s record. Earlier this month, the club sponsored television advertisements blasting Lugar across Indiana.

“An incumbent who sits at 32 percent in his own party’s primary, and trails a much less known challenger, is in a world of trouble,” Chocola, a former Indiana Congressman, said in a statement. “Senator Lugar is a very decent man, but it’s clear from the poll that after 35 years, Hoosier Republicans are eager for a more conservative alternative.”

About one-third of those polled, 34 percent, said they were undecided about the GOP Senate primary field.
I have previously said I am not 100% sure Lugar will go to the post in 2012.  I think there is a decent chance that he will choose to retire gracefully than risk electoral defeat.  Of course, at Lugar's age there is an increased chance that health complications may suddenly put him on the sidelines.

Meeting of Indiana Attorneys, Law School Graduates and Law School Students To Discuss Issues Related to the Legal Profession

TO:  Indiana Attorneys, Law School Graduates and Law School Students

RE:  Informal Meeting To Discuss Issues Related to the Legal Profession in Indiana

DATE and TIME:  Tuesday, August 16, 2011, 7 p.m.

LOCATION:  Indianapolis TBA  (Will announce the exact place for the meeting about a week out.)

CONTACT:  Paul K. Ogden, 317-297-9720,  pogden297@comcast.net

Over the course of the last several years, I have heard countless complaints from Indiana attorneys about matters related to the legal profession, some of which I have addressed on this blog.  Organizations such as the Indiana and Indianapolis Bar Associations, though have not once lifted a finger to address any of these concerns.   I don't believe those traditional attorney organizations, dominated by partners at big law firms, will ever take those complaints seriously unless they see attorneys organized and speaking in a unified voice.  The purpose of this meeting is to take the first step in organizing to address those long ignored concerns.

What are the issues I would like attorneys to discuss at the meeting?  Here are a few:
  • Law schools lying to students about job employment numbers and salaries
  • Law schools failing to teach graduates the basics involved in practicing law
  • Failure of law schools to help graduates looking for legal employment
  • A lack of jobs for attorneys due to an oversaturated job market
  • Poor, stagnant pay for associates, while partner salaries at big firms continue to increase
  • Further saturation of the job market brought on by the possible opening of a fifth law school, Indiana Tech, which would be the first for profit law school in the state
  • Enormous law school debt faced by many new attorneys
On another matter, I know that many attorneys, especially many new attorneys, have hung out their own shingle when they couldn't find jobs at law firms. These attorneys are often sharing space with other attorneys or are working out of home offices.  While cutting overhead makes a lot of sense, it is critical for a successful legal practice that attorneys be able to consult with other attorneys,sharing not only ideas, but documents that each have drafted  At the meeting, in addition to the complaints about the profession, I hope to discuss ways that attorneys in different locations, utilizing modern technology, can engage in much needed consultative practices that are an everyday experience for attorneys who work in a medium to large-sized law firm.

Please contact me if you're a law student, graduate and/or attorney who is interested in attending the meeting on August 16th.  I would like to get a count by August 9th.  My contact information is at the top of this page.

An Example of Marion County Forfeiture Abuse: City Refuses to Return Woman's Vehicle Unless She Signs Waiver for Damage Police Caused During Search

Last week I received a call from a woman whose son was arrested and convicted for a drug offense early last year.  During the arrest, they took the mother's car out the driveway.   The police tore apart the mother's car searching - undoubtedly illegally - for drugs justify a civil forfeiture action.  Nothing was found.  The inside of the car though was severely damaged during the search.

Although the deadline for filing a civil forfeiture action passed over a year ago, the City will not return the vehicle to the Mother  Why?  She refuses to sign a form absolving the City of liability for damage to her car and won't pay $125 in storage fees to the owner of the impound lot. 

The City has absolutely no authority to hold onto this woman's vehicle.  To do so is theft and conversion.  To try to extract a waiver and $125 in exchange for the release of a vehicle the City has no right to possess is reprehensible and the attorneys involved should be held in contempt for their conduct .  It is long past time for Indiana judges to crack down on underhanded civil forfeiture tactics.

Republican Councilors Refuse to Allow Public Testimony on Controversial Appointment to Zoning Board

Gary Welsh of Advance Indiana details the latest outrage involving a Republican-controlled council committee blocking public input:
Councilor Janice McHenry
chairs the Metropolitan
Development Committee
Four years ago, Greg Ballard and the Marion Co. GOP council candidates railed against the Democratic-controlled council over the manner in which it trampled on the rights of the general public to testify at public committee hearings. Today, the Metropolitan Development Committee chaired by Councilor Janice McHenry ruled community activist Clarke Kahlo out of order when he attempted to offer public testimony on the nomination of Richard Kraft to the Board of Zoning Appeals. Other Republican councilors, including Councilor Caine and Councilor Cardwell, backed up McHenry's refusal to allow Kahlo to offer testimony. They falsely claimed public testimony had never been allowed from members of the public on nominees. McHenry and the GOP councilors are pissed off at Kahlo because he mounted an effort to block the reappointment of Jennifer Ping, a lobbyist for a law firm whose clients include those with an interest in alcohol permits, to the local alcohol board because she had treated members of the public so rudely when they remonstrated against the reissuance of problem alcohol permittees or the issuance of new alcohol permit applications. Ping's husband, a state employee, chairs the Metropolitan Development Committee.

Not surprisingly, the Republican councilors were thrilled to offer up Kraft's appointment to the BZA. He works for an engineering firm which does business with the City and helps fill the campaign coffers of the re-election campaign of Greg Ballard. In a laughable moment, Kraft said with a straight face under questioning by Councilor Brian Mahern that he would face no conflicts of interest serving on the BZA. Yep, he earns his living from government contracts, but he will have an open mind on matters that come before the BZA. Candidate Ballard four years ago promised to enact a city ordinance to bar city contractors and lobbyists from serving on the boards and commissions. As with virtually every other promise he made four years ago, he has not kept it. The Republicans have refused to appoint any of the people who actually played a role in their election four years ago to any boards or commissions. Some of us will gladly play the game of pay back this November for their disloyalty to us.
To see the rest of Welsh's post, click here.

Kahlo's experience reminds me of one I had last year.  The issue of the taxpayer $33.5 million gift to the Pacers was before the Municipal Corporations Committee, chaired by Republican Councilor Barb Malone.  CIB representative and former Deputy Mayor Paul Okeson had just finished his presentation urging the committee to bestow the millions on the Pacers claiming that otherwise they could break the contract and move. The committee began taking public comments.   After a couple people made statements, I stood to explain how the financial penalties in the contract worked and that those penalties were actually in the neighborhood of hundreds of millions of dollars, disproving the claim the Pacers could simply pick up and move.  When Malone saw that I was going to destroy Okeson's fraudulent presentation, she immediately reversed direction and refused to let me address the committee  Over on the Democratic side I saw Councilor Jackie Nytes shaking her head in support of Malone's decision to silence me, a fact that belied Nytes' alleged concerns about the deal.

The council's silencing of community activist Clarke Kahlo is equally appalling, especially since Republicans railed against the Peterson administration and the then Democratic majority for shutting out the public at committee meetings.  The appointment of Kraft, who is the principle at an engineering firm that does business with the city, is indeed a controversial one.  During his presentation, Kraft gave effusive praise to the North of South project, a project that the City put taxpayers on the hook for to the tune of $100 million when no private lender would back the risky deal.  Of course Kraft's fellow engineers benefited from that move.

It is disgusting that instead of the City appointing an ordinary citizen interested in public service to serve on the zoning board, the City reached out to an engineer, part of the downtown elite which have been profiting at the expense of taxpayers.  Why are we to believe Kraft will suddenly put taxpayers first when serving on the zoning board?

Bottom line, if the committee chair Janice McHenry and the rest of the committee are so concerned about Kraft's appointment that they close the door on public comment, then perhaps it is an appointment that shouldn't be made.  Republican councilors need to remember their complaints during the 2007 campaign about lack of public input.  As far as the Democratic councilors on the committee, it is time they stood up and start decrying these insider appointments that inevitably are against the best interests of Indianapolis taxpayers.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Mike Pence's Ill-Advised Primary Campaign Strategy

I've mentioned before on these pages that I like Rep. Mike Pence.  We're both from southeastern Indiana, he from Columbus while I hail from Madison.  Mike and I were at Hanover College together 1979-1980 and in law school, he was a class ahead of me and drew cartoons for the law school newspaper for which I was editor.  Mike and I talked politics quite a few times in law school and I share his views on probably 90% of the issues.  Although liberals try to make Mike Pence out to be some sort of mean-spirited ogre, he in fact is an extremely likable person who is much more open-minded than he's been portrayed.  Pence should score well with Hoosier voters.

Having said that, I think his strategy of not talking about issues until after the primary is terribly misguided.  The Indianapolis Star reports:
Rep. Mike Pence leads a small pack of candidates for governor handily in campaign cash and enjoys the status of being the Republican establishment candidate in a GOP-dominated state.

But one of his first campaign promises, made the day before he kicked off his campaign last month, was that he won't talk policy until after the May 2012 Republican primary -- which he's widely expected to win.

"I was insulted," said Fishers businessman Jim Wallace, who is challenging Pence for the Republican nomination. "I think that presumes voters don't care or don't know that there should be a serious discussion."

Pence spokesman Matt Lloyd won't comment, and the Pence campaign won't release the names of Republicans who are working on his policy team and advising him on state issues. But the campaign isn't lacking for experience: Chris Atkins, Daniels' former budget aide, is running Pence's policy operation.

Unfortunately for voters who crave details, Pence's policy silence is brilliant politics, said former Republican state Rep. Mike Murphy, who now does political consulting.

"If you're the front-runner, you want to talk as little about policy as possible because you're already the presumptive nominee," Murphy said. "Any nuance of a policy proposal could drive prospective voters away."
To see the rest of the article, click here.

I couldn't disagree more with former Rep. Murphy.  While what Murphy is saying about issues is true in a vacuum, campaigns aren't conducted in a vacuum.  The problem is that the Pence strategy to avoid issues will become THE issue.  If Pence is unwilling to address policy details until the primary is over, he's likely to deeply alienate many GOP-leaning voters as he squares off against Fishers businessman Jim Wallace next May.  Wallace is playing it extremely smart playing the role of victim and saying he's "insulted" about the Pence strategy.  The Wallace people are, in fact, probably thrilled with the Pence campaign strategy, which could alienate so many otherwise Pence-leaning Republicans as to give the businessman an actual shot of winning the primary.

Even more troublesome for the GOP is that the Pence campaign strategy gives presumptive Democratic gubernatorial nominee former Speaker John Gregg an opening.  If I'm Gregg, leading up to the primary I hammer Pence relentlessly for not talking about the issues.  By the time the primary is over, there will be a segment of Republicans deeply alienated, indeed insulted, by the Pence campaign strategy.   Those Republicans might very well be inclined to vote for a moderate, good old boy Democrat like Gregg.

I hope there were at least some Pence advisers who warned against this ill-advised campaign strategy.  If not, Pence needs better advisers on his team.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Editor Dennis Ryerson Suggests Indianapolis Star Gets Scooped Because of High Ethical Standards; Ryerson Ignores His Own Newspaper's Cozy Relationship With With Downtown Power Brokers

Indianapolis Star Editor Dennis Ryerson
Dennis Ryerson, editor of the Indianapolis Star, penned an interesting column this morning.  Here's part of his take on the media controversy surrounding the Rupert Murdoch media empire:
There are several "legs" raised by this story and other recent media behaviors:

The issue of phone hacking and other illegal or less-than-honorable practices some use in an effort to pull a sensational story.

The cozy relationship that can build between the media and the politicians they cover. It's fair to say that too many British politicians of all stripes have gone overboard to kiss up to media owners in the hopes of getting favorable coverage.

The "open source" approach to journalism brought on by the Internet, resulting in more access to information but also vastly different standards as to how reporting is done. As one example of that, an editor of the website Buffalo Beast pretended to be a big-name conservative donor to get an interview with the Wisconsin governor, tricking the governor into saying incredible things he wouldn't otherwise have said.

I fear that as more and more diverse outlets use whatever less-than-credible tools they can to dig out stories, they'll from time to time come upon a legitimate story and beat the more mainstream media.

Will that, then, drive all of us to reduce our standards just to get a story first?

Not if I have anything to do about it.
Reading Ryerson's column, one would be left thinking that it is only "open source" media (I assume he's referring to bloggers) who have been scooping the Star on stories.  The fact is every media in town has been scooping the Star on stories, especially those relating to Indianapolis politics.   WRTV's Kara Kenney and Fox59's Russ McQuaid are but two of the reporters who have done quality reporting on local news stories that the Indianapolis Star has simply ignored.  Also, the Indianapolis Business Journal has repeatedly done investigative reporting on stories that the Star refused to cover.  While bloggers like myself, Gary Welsh of Advance Indiana and Pat Andrews of Had Enough Indy have written stories on local politics, most were based on information the Star knew about or could have easily discovered with any sort of investigation.

The Star's approach to covering local political controversy.
Surprisingly the Star has done a fairly good job at reporting political misdeeds at the state level.  The Star exposed the Duke Energy-IURC scandal through excellent reporting.  The Star is all over the state-wide abuse of civil forfeiture.   A couple years ago, the Star was running a regular piece on gifts received by Indiana legislators.  The Star is strong when it comes to talking about the "revolving door" in state government.  Of course, when it comes to the local revolving door, a much worse problem, the Star says nothing.

Let's look at the local issues the Star refused to do any quality, investigative reporting on:
  • The Broad Ripple Parking Garage, including the administration's insistence on secrecy as to key details and the fact that a big contributor to Mayor Ballard and employer of former Deputy Mayor Paul Okeson won the deal.
  • The North of South project, a deal that every private investor rejected as too risky. 
  • The East Market Street project deal and the questionable financials behind the deal.
  • The 50 Year Parking Meter Deal, including the questionable financials and that the winning bidder, ACS, had employed as its lobbyist, Joe Loftus, the chief legal advisor to Ballard and lobbyist for the City.
  • The fact that Deputy Mayor Paul Okeson went directly from working for the city to Keystone Construction, which then won contracts from Mayor's Office.
  • The Pacers $33.5 million gift and issues relating to the need to do that deal.
  • Questionable figures supplied by the Capital Improvement Board regarding their financial condition.
In every case, the best the Star would ever do is simply report that questions were being raised. It was TV reporters, the IBJ, and bloggers who did the investigation into those matters and reported what was learned.

I don't blame the Star reporters. They are forced by their employer to churn out several stories a day under tight deadlines that don't allow for investigative reporting.  You talk to those reporters and most would love the opportunity to do more investigation into the stories they write.

The reason for the Star's approach is financial...Gannet saves money on news gathering if  fewer reporters turn out more stories.  But it is a short-sighted approach.  After all, it is quality, investigative reporting on local issues that sells newspapers. Cutting back on the cost of news gathering ultimately leads to less newspapers being sold.  I never thought I would see the day when TV reporters were doing lengthy investigative reporting, while newspapers were doing superficial stories that barely scratch the surface of issues.  That day has arrived.

Unfortunately, cost savings is not the sole reason behind the Star's failure to critically cover local politics.  The Star is very supportive of the pay-to-play political culture of Indianapolis politics.  Questions regarding the heavily-subsidized public-private partnerships and real cost of those deals to taxpayers are consistently ignored by the Indianapolis Star in its news stories and by columnists such as Matt Tully.   The Star editors close their eyes when it comes to any sort of improper political influence exercised by these private companies over our local decision makers.   Compare how the Star ignores local political malfeasance while zealously pursing it at the state level, most recently with the previously mentioned Duke Energy-IURC scandal.

The Star's parent company, Indianapolis Newspapers, is an investor in the downtown mall which is owned by the Simons and is propped up with taxpayer subsidies.  Who represents the Indianapolis Star?  Barnes and Thornburg, a local law firm which all but runs Indianapolis city government and also represents the Simons.   The fact is the Star is extremely close to the downtown power brokers who have long suckled on the teats of taxpayers.  How can Ryerson criticize Murdock's "cozy relationship" with politicians while ignoring his own newspapers "cozy relationship" with the very people his paper should be reporting critically on?  There's only one explanation:  hypocrisy.

While a lot of people celebrate the Star's demise, I mourn it.  We desperately need a good daily newspaper that is willing to do investigative reporting and keep the politicians honest.  The Star, led by Ryerson, has shown it is not that newspaper.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Analysis Reveals Ballard's 2007 Election Victory Was Result of Perfect Electoral Storm Unlikely to Be Repeated

Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard
I spent some time this morning pouring over township results in the 2003 and 2007 mayoral election.  I was interested in finding out township-by-township where Mayor Bart Peterson's re-election went off the tracks in 2007.  Then I looked at the 2010 - a good Republican year - numbers for a hint on what they might reveal for Indianapolis Mayor Ballard's election chances in 2011.  The results were revealing.

In 2003, Mayor Peterson won re-election by over 37,000 votes.  He lost only the three southern townships of Franklin, Perry and Decatur.  In 2007, Peterson lost to now Mayor Greg Ballard by 5,312 votes.  Peterson won only Center, Washington and Pike townships. 

While a lot of people probably think the 2007 election just involved Democrats staying home, it is more complicated than that.  After all, approximately 17,000 more people voted for Mayor in 2007 than 2003, 165,002 compared to 148,130.

Comparing the townships, I was able to determine how much each township switched from Democrat to Republican from 2003 to 2007 in the Mayor's race.  Below is a listing of the net Republican gain as well as the individual breakdown.

Center:  5,024  (-2,983 D votes, picked up 2,041 R votes)
Decatur:  1,408 (-223 D votes, picked up 1,185 R votes)
Franklin:  3,521 (-186 D votes, picked up 3,335 R votes)
Lawrence: 6,096 (-1,777 D votes, picked up 4,319 R votes)
Perry:  5,130  (-470 D votes, picked up 4,660 R votes)
Pike:  2,858 (-1,086 D votes, picked up 1,772 R votes)
Warren: 1,663 (-1,663 D votes, picked up 3,180 R votes)
Washington: 7,034 (-2,715 D votes, picked up 4,399 R votes)
Wayne:  5,505 (-2,502 D votes, picked up 3,003 R votes)

Note:  The gain in Franklin, the second smallest township population wise, is significant.  I double checked the numbers and they are correct.

It appears from reviewing this data, the 2007 Indianapolis municipal election featured the perfect storm of three factors: 
  • Democrats staying home
  • Democrats crossing over to vote Republican
  • Republicans turning out in higher numbers to vote
This perfect storm not only put Ballard over the top, but also resulted in Republicans electing 3 of 4 at-large candidates and winning control of the council.

Democratic Mayoral Candidate
Melina Kennedy
Despite the perfect storm in 2007, Ballard won by only 5,312 votes.  If any of the 2007 factors aren't present in the 2011 election, Democratic candidate Melina Kennedy wins.  Or if Kennedy gets any significant portion of the Marion County Republican base to defect from Ballard, she wins. It doesn't take much to make up 5,312 votes.

But could it be the 2007 election wasn't an aberration, but rather a long-term trend of the county becoming more Republican?   I looked at the township results for the 2010 Election.  2010 was an excellent year for Republicans nationwide and in Indiana.  Contrary to popular belief, it was also a good year for Republicans in Marion County.  In 2008, the baseline spread between the county wide candidates was about 60-40, 20 points.  In 2010, that gap narrowed to about 55-45, 10 points.  Republicans in 2010 won races in Lawrence and Wayne Township, two townships that were thought to have trended permanently Democratic.  Republicans also knocked off an incumbent state legislator, John Barnes, on the east side of the City.

But even though the nationwide Republican tide lifted the Marion County GOP's boat in 2010, the numbers compared to 2007 show a startling problem for Republicans.  The 2010 Democratic baseline numbers were better than the 2007 election results in 8 of 9 townships.  Only Franklin bucked the trend:

2010 D-R vote % compared to 2007
Center:  D gain 7.17%
Decatur:  D gain 3.3%
Franklin:  R gain 2.35%
Lawrence: D gain 2.02%
Perry:  D gain .78%
Pike:  D gain 5.28%
Warren:  D gain 14.6%
Washington:  D gain 5.1%
Wayne:  D gain 8.12%

Marion County Republican leadership should have treated the 2007 election more as Peterson losing than Ballard winning.  That honest approach would have allowed Ballard's election to be treated as an opportunity to recast the Marion County GOP into a party that that reaches out to working class men and woman, a populist party that is capable of winning races in a county that has become one of the most Democratic in the state.

Instead of taking that approach, Ballard and the county GOP leadership treated the 2007 election as if were a referendum on the past GOP leadership in the county.  On Election Night, Goldsmith-era advisers cornered Ballard and have not let him out of their sight since.  Those advisers have used Ballard's upset victory to skillfully cash in for themselves and their friends.  The cost of their profiteering is Ballard's re-election and the Marion County GOP's future.  It will be 20 years before Indianapolis voters trust another Republican to occupy the Mayor's Office.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Who Do Indiana State Senators Represent Following Redistricting?

The Indiana Law blog today picked up an interesting article from the Indiana Economic Digest about the confusion over when newly drawn legislative districts take effect.

New State Senate Districts
The position of the Indiana House leadership is that the new districts don't take effect until the new members are elected from those newly-drawn districts in the November 2012 election.  The reasoning is that representatives can't represent constituents who didn't vote for them.

The Indiana Senate though takes the position that the districts took effect as of July 1, 2011 and now state senators are representing people in the newly-drawn districts rather than those people who just elected them in November of 2010.  As a practical matter, this works for the Senate because there are no open new Senate districts and no incumbents were lumped together in districts.  The House map though features open districts and incumbents who have been lumped together in the same district.  So representing new districts wouldn't work well for House members.

I have to say, I've always thought the House interpretation was the correct one.  But I never considered the problem with the State Senate which has staggered elections.  Senators serve four year terms with half of the body elected every two years.  So only 1/2 the Senators will be elected from the newly drawn districts in 2012. The rest will have to wait until 2014.  If you apply to the Senate the House theory (that legislators don't start representing the new districts until they are elected from those districts), after the 2012 elections you'd have half the Senators representing new districts and half representing old districts.  Thus there would be parts of the state that had two senators and parts of the state that had no representation in the Senate.

I'd be curious to know what the correct answer is to this legal/political riddle.

RIP: Randy Shambaugh

One of the first people I met when I became active in Marion County Republican politics was Randy Shambaugh of Wayne Township.  A few years older than me, Randy had very strongly held conservative beliefs and believed in public service.  A fan of Ronald Reagan, Randy was elected to the Speedway Town Council in 1987 and went on to be elected to the Indanapolis City-County Council in 1991 and 1995. 
Over the years, I had a few conversations with Randy.  He was always a gentleman, someone easy to talk to and pleasant to be around. Randy was adamant that he thought the Marion County Republican Party should be about promoting conservative values.  When I remember those conversations today, I am reminded how far the local GOP leadership has gotten from those values and principles that motivate people to be active in the party.  Randy untiringly stood for those values and principles.

Randy early on contracted Huntington's Disease, which unfortunately cut short his promising political career  I hadn't seen him in awhile and was saddened to see his obituary in the newspaper yesterday.  He will be missed:
Randy Jackson Shambaugh

53, of Speedway, IN, passed away from complications after a long battle with Huntington's Disease Sunday, July 17, 2011. He was born December 23, 1957 in Indianapolis, IN to the late JoAnn and Monte Shambaugh… and so his love for politics began.

Randy was an active member of the Marion County Republican Party throughout his life. He was a member of the "Young Republican's" early on and served as a precinct committeeman until 2008. In 1987 he became the youngest person elected to the Speedway Town Council and served the Town for 4 years before winning election to the City-County Council in 1991 and re-election in 1995. Randy served as chairman of the Parks & Recreation Committee where they named the Randy Shambaugh Baseball Park after him. He was instrumental in the development of Victory Field and served as liaison between the Capital Improvement Board & Indianapolis Indians.

Randy was employed by Hendricks County Engineering where he worked as an inspector and draftsman before retiring in 1998.

Randy was an active member of the Huntington's Disease Society of America, Indiana Chapter, serving as vice president of the board & trustee. Besides Randy's love for politics and President Ronald Reagan, he was an avid hunter, loved racing, the band KISS, his St. Louis Cardinals and beloved Collies.

He is survived by his wife Linda; son, Wesley Jackson, step-mother Linda, brother Mark; sister, Diane (Mike) Cope, step-brother Aaron (Jennifer) Baute and numerous nieces and nephews.

Visitation will be held at Flanner and Buchanan Funeral Center - Speedway from 4 to 8 p.m., Wednesday, July 20th with funeral services held at 10:00 a.m., Thursday, July 21st at the funeral center. Burial will follow in Lincoln Memory Gardens, Whitestown, IN.

Memorial contributions may be made to the IU Foundation at the IU School of Medicine, c/o IU Foundation, P.O. Box 660245. Please indicate in memory of Randy Shambaugh.

http://www.flannerbuchanan.com/

Published in the The Indianapolis Star on July 19, 2011

My Updated Blog List

I am in the process of updating my blog list and thought I would post about changes that I have made and explain how they are organized.  I now have three blog lists.  The first is a more local blog list where the blogger posts something at least every few days.  In that first list, I have the title of the latest blog post listed.  (I find that for some reason it doesn't always update when you log in. to my blog.)  One that I added today that looks promising is Hoosier Ed, a blog devoted to education reform, a subject near and dear to my heart.

The second list consists of blogs I check less frequently. Generally they are blogs that are updated less frequently.  (As I notice a blogger not posting regularly, the blog may be moved from the No. 1 to No. 2 list.)  The list, however, list also contains a few blogs - such as Hoosier Access - which for some reason doesn't feed its newest blog post in Blogger so I can't included it in the first list.

The third, and newest, list is of law related blogs that are not local.  (The Indiana Law Blog, for example, I have kept in the first list.)  I'm focusing on ones that update regularly.  Some of the ones I've added seem pretty interesting for those interested in legal developments.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Public Access Counselor Continues Practice That Favors Government Agencies Over Private Citizens; Are Government Attorneys Engaging in Prohibited Ex Parte Communication with PAC?

Recently Pat Andrews asked for open records relating to Keystone Construction and partners' winning bid to build and run the Broad Ripple Parking Garage, a deal which will cost the taxpayers about $6 million for which they no ownership and no revenue.  The City responded with the claim that the information was protected from disclosure because it supposedly is a "trade secret"

Indiana Public Access Counselor Andrew Kossack
The information Pat asked for was the same information the City was willing to provide on the losing bids. The City also said that it would provide the information with respect to Keystone after the deal was finalized.  The response completely belied the City's claim that the information requested is some sort of trade secret.

Pat decided to take the refusal of the City to provide the documents to the Indiana Public Access Counselor.  I wasn't too keen on going to the PAC.  The PAC has a long history of siding with government against citizen and media requests for information.  The current PAC is Andrew Kossack, a former Barnes and Thornburg attorney.  Barnes represents scores of governmental entities and is renowned for getting their attorneys appointed to positions in which they can protect the firm's clients.   We all hoped Kossack would be different from his predecessor Heather Willis Neal, who consistently failed to support open government.  Kossack though has proven to be as bad as his predecessor.

The biggest problem with the PAC is how the office handles open records complaints. The typical practice in government is that when you receive a consumer complaint about someone you regulate, you ask for a response from the regulated party.  Then when you have that response you show it to the original complainant. This allows for rebuttal and the complainant to point out any facts that allegedly aren't true in the response.

This Complaint-Response-Reply procedure is a practice that is used throughout state government.  It is used in state and federal court.  It is NOT used by the Indiana's PAC.

The practice of the PAC under Willis Neal and Kossack is to submit the complaint to the government agency and get a response.  The PAC doesnt't share the response with the original complainant.  Instead the PAC writes an opinion, assuming that what the government agency said is 100% true.  Of course this procedure greatly favors the government agency. Apparently that is completely fine with Willis Neal and Kossack.  That flawed procedure was once again followed by Kossack in his denial of Pat Andrews' request for information on the Broad Ripple Parking garage.

An additional note.  Attorneys are very cognizant of their ethical obligation to send the opposing parties copies of any communication with a government official deciding a matter in which their client is a party.  Yet when it comes to the PAC, attorneys representing government agencies often don't send their response to the other side?  Why? They know the PAC doesn't follow the normal Complaint-Response-Reply process and will issue a ruling based simply on the agency's response.  If the attorney sends the complainant the response, the information the agency is giving can be contradicted.  It is clear the only reason for the attorney to engage in ex parte communication with the PAC is to gain an advantage in the case before the PAC.

The Indiana Supreme Court needs to take a good hard look at the practice of the government agency attorneys engaging in ex parte communication with the PAC is a violation of Rule 3.5 of the Indiana Rules of Professional Conduct.  That rule would seem to prohibit ex parte communication with the PAC during the consideration of the open records complaint.    Also, Mr. Kossack might be violating ethical rules as well since he is a willing party to the ex parte communication with the government agency's attorney.  His practice of not making the the agency attorney's response available to the original complainant could well be deemed his participation in ex parte communication in violation of the ethical rules.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Wall Street Journal Slams Marion County Small Claims Courts; Will the Supreme Court or Legislature Finally Demand Changes?

I have long complained about creditors forum shopping in Marion County small claims court and the practice of some of those courts in getting too chummy with attorneys for the creditors. This morning, the Wall Street Journal picks up on the issue.  Here is a portion of the WSJ article, I found on Yahoo:
MARION COUNTY, Ind.—For U.S. consumers with too many bills and not enough money, the end of the line is often a small-claims court like the one here in Pike Township.

Judge A. Douglas Stephens, who presides over all the township's small-claims cases, calls himself a "Renaissance redneck" and wears a small gun strapped to his ankle while on the bench. He says he has little patience for the "feeble protests" of people who try to dodge their financial obligations.

Shortly after his 2003 election, he recalls, two insurance executives in "bad suits" sat silently in the back of his courtroom to see if he would rule in favor of their company in a dispute involving damage from a car accident. He says he did, based on the facts.

These days, his calendar is packed with cases from many insurance companies—sometimes more than 200 a day—against residents who allegedly owe money for insurance premiums or car accidents. The defendants live not only in Pike Township but in townships all over Marion County. Judge Stephens says that American Family Mutual Insurance Co., based in Madison, Wis., files all its cases against county residents in his township because "they had a problem with another judge who was consistently too tough," whom he declines to name. Judge Stephens says he is "totally impartial." American Family declined to comment.

As companies and debt collectors try to collect on overdue bills that piled up during the financial crisis, the recession and their aftermath, they are borrowing a tactic from plaintiffs' lawyers: They shop around for the best places to bring their claims. Debt collectors aren't so much worried about whether a court will rule that the debtor owes the money—most cases are fairly clear-cut on that point—but about how aggressively collectors can pursue a debtor's assets.

Lawsuits to collect on bad debts have to be filed in the state where a debtor lives. In most cases, debt collectors don't get to choose the court in which the case will be heard. Unless it involves an especially large debt, it will be the small-claims court in the debtor's county, and there's no way for a debt collector to pick the judge.
...
Parts of Indiana are particularly unusual. 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.

"We lawyers call it forum-shopping," says Richard Gonon, a lawyer for Accounts Recovery Bureau Inc., a Reading, Pa., medical debt-collection firm that has filed cases in Marion County.
...
Debt collectors regard Indiana as friendly territory. Companies can file small-claims suits by mail rather than sending lawyers to file them in person. If a debt collector wins in court, nearly all of a creditor's assets can be pursued for payment, including real estate, pension payments and cars, which are off-limits in many other states.

Marion County, where Indianapolis is located, is the state's most populous county. It is carved into nine townships, each with its own court—a vestige of a time in which every Indiana resident was supposed to be able to reach a courthouse on horseback in one day.

Eighty percent of debt-collection cases against Marion County residents involved less than $6,000 in 2009, the latest year for which figures are available, so they were handled by township courts. State law allows debt collectors to file the suits in any of the nine courts.

Jeff Bennett, who oversees the Warren Township court's budget and staff, says township courts depend on filing fees of $81 per case to fund a chunk of their operations. He says that creates a "perverse incentive" for judges and their staffs to be "accommodating" to collectors.

...

Decatur Township has become the preferred courthouse for lawyers who collect soured debt on behalf of medical providers, according to Pam Ricker, who has managed the court's operations for more than 25 years. The township has no hospitals.

Ms. Ricker says a lack of public transportation discourages many defendants from showing up in court, resulting in automatic wins for debt collectors.

"We certainly have our loyal attorneys," said Ms. Ricker. The court provides lawyers with coffee in a break room and a fax machine for their clerical needs.

Of the 106 Med Shield cases scheduled to be handled by the court one day in February, just three involved defendants who lived in the township, according to an analysis of court records by The Wall Street Journal.
...
To see the rest of the article, click here.

The article seems to take a dim view of lawyers for creditors meeting with debtors before the hearing to see if a resolution can be reached.  I don't see anything wrong with the practice, as long as it is made clear to the defendant that he or she does not have to agree to any resolution and can take the case before the judge.  Many of the defendants have had no chance to communicate with the attorney to work out a resolution before the hearing.   Their appearance in court provides that opportunity.

But the rest of the article is on point.  Forum shopping is a terrible problem in the Marion County small claims courts.  Creditors can file cases in any small claims court they want to.  This creates competition among the small claims courts to provide a favorable forum for creditors.  Small claims courts, which are run by filing fees, have an incentive to keep creditors happy so they will continue filing in their courts. 

Marion County small claims courts often become far too chummy with creditors' attorneys, allowing them to set the court's schedule, use court offices for faxing and copying.  The article noted that in Center Township, constables, on behalf of creditors, pass out to documents to defendant debtors asking for information.

A year or so ago, my law firm had a client who was sued in a southern Marion County small claims court on a judgment with a hospital that was about 12 years old.  The amount was something like $400 and the court's records showed his wages had been garnished 11 years ago to pay the debt. 

It should have been a slam dunk win for the client.  The judgment was too old (the judgment becomes uncollectable after 10 years if not renewed, which it wasn't) and the hospital had no documentation showing how much was collected by the garnishment and how much still was owed.  Guess who won?   If your guess is the hospital's collection company, which files umpteen cases in that small claims court, you'd be correct.  Indiana law making old judgments uncollectable and the requirement that the plaintiff prove its case, didn't matter.

The issue of small claims court forum shopping and the accompanying perverse financial incentive to rule in favor of collection companies, raises at least an appearance that justice is not being dispensed in those courts.  Both the Indiana Supreme Court and the Indiana General Assembly have it within their authority to change the rules to restore the integrity of the judicial process in Marion County small claims courts.  It is time they take action.

Meridian Kessler Neighborhood Group Issues Position Paper Against Broad Ripple Parking Garage

Proposed Broad Ripple Parking Garage
Meridian Kessler Neighbors Helping Neighbors opposes the construction of a proposed parking garage subsidized by the City of Indianapolis using public funds.

1. The Broad Ripple Village Parking Study, by Walker Parking Consultants, August 3, 2007, funded by the Indianapolis Bond Bank, determined there is no parking shortage in the Broad Ripple area until after 11:00 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, and only in several individual blocks.

“Overall, the peak occupancy occurred during the 11:00 p.m. count on a weekend, with 63% occupancy. While this alone does not represent a parking problem, we see that several individual blocks experienced higher occupancy in the core area”. (Walker’s study, p. 17)

2. We believe the proposed parking garage constitutes a “want” by narrow interests rather than a true “need” for the city. Also, any alleged parking deficiency has been self-imposed by the commercial businesses and the Broad Ripple Village Association. The variances and permits which have caused inconvenience for some have been readily “rubber-stamped” by the Board of Zoning Appeals and the Marion County Alcoholic Beverages Board. The $6.4 million in public funds should instead be spent on true public needs and not, in essence, be donated to a group of business owners which have dismissed and ignored the root causes of the localized excess demand for auto parking.

3. Recent news reports (in the Indianapolis Business Journal) and several watchdog blogs (e.g. Advance Indiana, Ogden on Politics, and Had Enough Indy) have sharply criticized the garage plan based on its poor location, excessive cost, lack of transparency by city officials and undue political influence.

In summary, the proposed parking garage, heavily subsidized by public funds, would only further encourage late-night consumption of alcohol and the further proliferation and densification of alcohol permits in the over-saturated Broad Ripple “entertainment district”. Instead, the community would increasingly suffer the negative effects of alcohol abuse, including crime, bodily injury and property damage as well as an increase in vehicular and pedestrian accidents. In addition, there is no identified proven need for a parking garage.