In the complaint below that Attorney Steve Hofer filed with the State's Public Access Counselor, he also makes note of the curious fact that defendants names in Wayne and Lawrence Township are not included on a number of collection cases filed in Wayne and Lawrence Townships.
I would be remiss if I didn't give a shout out to Pike Small Claims Court who Steve identifies as complying with the law. I may be biased because it is my home township, but my experience is that Pike Township has the best run small claims court in Marion County. Kudos to my fellow law school classmate, Judge Doug Stephens for that.
The following is a link to Steve's blog on the subject.
August 21, 2014
Indiana Public Access Counselor
W470 Indiana Government Center South
402 West Washington Street
Indianapolis IN 46204
OFFICIAL OPEN RECORDS COMPLAINT
Agency: Wayne Township (Marion County) Small Claims Court
5401 West Washington Street, Indianapolis IN 46241
Date of Request/Agency Denied Access: August 4, 2014
Dear Counselor Britt:
I am hereby making a complaint of denied access under the Indiana Access to Public Records Act. The agency in question is the Wayne Township Small Claims Court in Indianapolis. On Monday, August 4, 2014, during regular business hours, between 2:30 and 3:00 PM; I went to the Wayne Township Small Claims Court for the purposes of reviewing a selection of recent cases filed by bad debt buyers. The abuse of the court system by bad debt buyers is a matter of public concern. For context see: The One Hundred Billion Dollar Problem in Small Claims Court: Robo-Signing and Lack of Proof, Peter A. Holland, published in Journal of Business & Technology Law, Vol. 6, p. 259, 2011 and online at http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1875727. See also the New York Times Magazine feature story Paper Boys: Inside the Dark, Labyrinth, and Extremely Lucrative World of Consumer Debt Collection, Jake Halpern, http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2014/08/15/magazine/bad-paper-debt-collector.html?_r=0.
At the Wayne Township Court, I was allowed to use the public access terminal to identify a selection of recent cases. I copied down some case numbers, approximately 20, and asked to see the files that went with the case numbers. The attendant said that I was not allowed to see the files, that they were not public. The only public information was the information on the terminal. I told the attendant that she is mistaken, these are public records that are readily accessed by collection attorneys on a daily basis. On that same day I had inspected files without incident at Pike Township Small Claims Court. The attendant told me that I would have to take it up with the supervisor who was not in, and would not be available until tomorrow. She would not give me the full name of the supervisor. I offered to make a written request, but I was rebuffed.
I believe it is the responsibility of the agency to have persons trained in compliance with the act on duty during all regular business hours regardless of the presence or absence of any given supervisor. I believe my treatment at this court conveys an image that the court’s policy is to be friendly to debt collectors but not to persons who want to police the conduct of debt collectors.
Finally, I would have made an informal request for an opinion by the counselor if it were not for a disturbing fact that I found out later. In the MYCASE online record system, the defendants’ names are missing from the online records of a number of collection cases filed in Wayne and Lawrence Townships after 8/11/2014. (See enclosed documentation.) If researchers aren't even able to get defendant names from the online system; it will be impossible to uncover problems with debt collectors misusing the court system.
Steven R. Hofer
Attorney at Law
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