Thursday, January 30, 2014

Amendment Deletes Bill Language That Would Have Removed Circuit Court Judge Louis Rosenberg From Supervising Marion County Small Claims Courts

Among attorneys and litigants who find themselves in Marion County (township) small claims courts, there have been a clamor for reform.  Issues with courts were the subject of a Wall Street Journal article as well as several exposes by local media.  Virtually everyone agrees that there has to be some reform, though the nature of that reform is in question.
Marion County Circuit Court Judge
Louis Rosenberg

In a very commendable fashion Marion County Circuit Judge Louis Rosenberg has tackled the issues with the small claims court.  A Commission was impaneled by the Indiana Supreme Court that heard from attorney, parties and judges on changes. The biggest problem reported was venue rules that allow the filing of collection cases in any small claims court in the county, therefore allowing creditor attorneys to forum shop for the most favorable venues for their cases.  That combined with the fact that small claims courts make a considerable amount of money off of collection cases, created an incentive for small claims courts to favor creditors over debtors.  While most small claims court judges handle cases fairly, it was apparent from the testimony before the Commission that at lot of debtors and their attorneys felt that there was a bias in some of the courts.

The Commission eventually issued a report proposing reform.  People then sat back hoping the legislature would adopt at least some of the proposed reforms. At first, the news for reform was bleak.  Senate Bill 366 was introduced, which in addition to making a number of changes regarding garnishment, also would have removed the circuit court judge, i.e. Judge Rosenberg, from his role of establishing small claims court rules.  Instead a small claims court judge would be elected by his or her fellow peers to act as administrator for the courts.  That judge, in consultation with the other small claims court judges, would enact rules for the small claims court.

Fortunately, that provision in the bill was stripped out by a 5-4 vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday.  The offending language removing Judge Rosenberg was instead replaced with the following language:
"SECTION 7. [EFFECTIVE JULY 1, 2014] (a) As used in this SECTION, "commission" refers to the commission on courts established by IC 33-23-10-1.
 (b) The general assembly urges the legislative council to assign to the commission or another appropriate study committee the task of studying:
(1) small claims court administration;
(2) the jurisdictional amount in small claims actions; and
(3) venue and the distribution of judicial resources in small claims actions.
(c) If the commission or another appropriate committee is assigned the topic described in subsection (b), the commission or committee shall issue to the legislative council a final report containing the commission's or committee's findings and recommendations, including any recommended legislation concerning the topic, in an electronic format under IC 5-14-6 not 19 later than November 1, 2014.
This amendment not only strips out the offending language removing much needed oversight of the small claims courts, it opens the door to actual reform of the small claims courts.

1 comment:

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