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Orange v. Morris

Court of Appeals of Indiana

December 18, 2014

GILDA ORANGE, et al., Members of the Common Council of the City of East Chicago, Indiana, Appellants/Defendants,
v.
HON. SONYA A. MORRIS, as Judge of the City Court of the City of East Chicago, Indiana, Appellee/Plaintiff

As Corrected December 24, 2014.

Page 788

APPEAL FROM THE LAKE CIRCUIT COURT. The Honorable George C. Paras, Special Judge. Cause No. 45C01-1302-PL-12.

ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANTS: JON LARAMORE, A. SCOTT CHINN, ANNE K. RICCHIUTO, Faegre Baker Daniels LLP, Indianapolis, Indiana.

ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE: KARL L. MULVANEY, MARGARET M. CHRISTENSEN, Bingham Greenbaum Doll, LLP, Indianapolis, Indiana, JON F. SCHMOLL, Valparaiso, IN.

BRADFORD, Judge. BARNES, J., and BROWN, J., concur.

Page 789

OPINION

BRADFORD, Judge

CASE SUMMARY

In 2012, Appellants/Defendants Gilda Orange, et al., in their capacities as members of the Common Council of the City of East Chicago, Indiana (collectively, " the Council" ), reduced by $82,000 the 2013 budget of the City Court of the City of East Chicago, Indiana (" the City Court" ), which is presided over by Appellee/Plaintiff the Honorable Sonya A. Morris, Judge. In October of 2012, Judge Morris filed a verified complaint in mandamus in Lake Circuit Court, seeking an order that the Council fully fund the City Court's requested budget for 2013 and that the Council also pay the City Court's reasonable expenses in prosecuting the action. The Council moved to dismiss Judge Morris's complaint on the ground that it did not use the Indiana Supreme Court's judicial assignment process as outlined in Indiana Trial Rule 60.5.

Special Judge George C. Paras was appointed to hear the complaint, denied the Council's motion to dismiss, and held trial. Following trial, Judge Paras ordered the Council to appropriate an additional $65,000 to fund the City Court (" the Mandate" ) and for each party to pay its own expenses and attorney's fees. The Council contends that (1) Judge Morris failed to meet her burden to establish that the mandated funds were reasonably necessary to operate the City Court, (2) Judge Morris should have been required to use the judicial appointment process of Trial Rule 60.5, (3) existing probation funds could have cushioned the effect of budgetary cuts, and (4) the Council's appeal is not moot. The City Court counters that (1) the Mandate was necessary to preserve the judicial independence of the City Court, (2) the mandated funds are reasonably necessary to fund court operations, (3) the Council failed to establish that the City Court's budget is excessive or that East Chicago could not fund the budget, and (4) the City Court is entitled to appellate attorney's fees and expenses. We consolidate and restate the issues as (1) whether Judge Morris produced sufficient evidence to support the mandate of funds, (2) whether Judge Morris should have been required to use the procedure outlined in Trial Rule 60.5, and (3) whether the City Court is entitled to appellate attorney's fees and expenses. We affirm the judgment of the trial court and remand for calculation of the City Court's appellate attorney's fees and expenses.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

In 2004, Judge Morris was elected City Court Judge. At the time, the City Court was allotted twenty employees, including her. Since 2004, the City Court has lost five employees and hired one, which means that the City Court's 2013 budget includes seventeen employees, including Judge Morris. The City Court's budget for salaries was $599,900.00 in 2002, $651,777.00 in 2009, and $513,344.00 in 2012.

Meanwhile, in the spring of 2012, the Council began to consider creating a budget that decreased spending without creating the need to lay off numerous employees. East Chicago's revenue had

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decreased in recent years due to declining tax revenue from the local casino, property tax caps, and the economic downturn at the time. The Council reduced East Chicago's 2013 budget by approximately fifteen percent as compared to the 2012 budget, from $30.7 million to $25.9 million. In the East Chicago budget ordinance adopted on October 25, 2012, the Council decreased the City Court's budget from its 2012 level of $832,800.00 by $83,000.00. As a result of the City Court's budget reduction, Judge Morris filed a verified complaint in mandamus on October 25, 2012, in Lake Circuit Court. On December 3, 2012, the Council filed a motion to dismiss on the ground that Judge Morris's mandate action was required to have been filed as an original action in the Indiana Supreme Court pursuant to Indiana Trial Rule 60.5. In December of 2012, Judge Morris filed a motion for change of judge. On January 14, 2013, the Honorable George Paras was appointed special judge and denied the Council's motion to dismiss on June 4, 2013. After unsuccessful mediation, Judge Paras heard the case on September 25, 2013.

Evidence presented by Judge Morris at trial indicates that the City Court faces challenges arising from the population it serves. Many persons charged with crimes in the City Court do not have the ability to pay fines and court costs, and many have difficulty satisfying the fifty-dollar public defender fee. The median income in East Chicago is far less than in the neighboring Lake County cities of Merrillville and Schererville. It is not appropriate to fine all guilty defendants the maximum amount authorized because, as Judge Morris testified, " [w]e want to rehabilitate. We do not want to bog defendants down with fees and fines and costs that we know they cannot pay." Tr. p. 75. The City Court seeks out alternatives to sentencing, such as treatment for addiction or driving school, services which add to the workload of the City Court staff.

Evidence was presented that the City Court faces other fiscal challenges arising from staffing requirements. East Chicago's Hispanic population is greater than in most other parts of Lake County, and the City Court employs two probation officers who speak Spanish. The City Court must also maintain the staff necessary to serve process and provide court security, as those functions are no longer provided by the Lake County Sheriff or the East Chicago Police Department. City Court bailiffs are responsible for service of court papers, screening court attendees for weapons, maintaining safety during prisoner transport, and maintaining court security. Judge Morris testified that each of the City Court's employees is necessary for the court to properly function and that, in the absence of additional funding, the City Court would not have been able to continue to pay salaries and would have had to close on October 11, 2013. Judge Morris testified that the City Court required $65,000.00 for proper operation of the court in the fiscal year 2013.

Dr. James Barnard testified for the City Court and opined that the City Court's budget aligned with the per capita spending of East Chicago. Relying on a report by the Indiana Department of Local Government, Dr. Barnard concluded that the neighboring municipalities of Merrillville and Schererville allocate twice as much to the local court salaries as does East Chicago. The City Court's budget was less than two percent of East Chicago's total budget, while the court budgets of Merrillville and Schererville were over four percent of the total budgets. The Council has money available from a gaming fund and transferred between three and five million dollars from that fund to East Chicago's general

Page 791

fund to balance the 2012 budget, and between two and three million dollars to balance the 2013 budget.

The Council's position in the trial court was that the City Court's budget reduction was warranted and that it should make up any budget shortfall with probation user fees. (Tr. 11-12, 102). At the end of June 2013, the City Court's adult probation fund stood at approximately $165,000.00 on hand. The City Court generates between $17,000.00 and $19,000.00 in probation fees annually, which the City Court allocates for operational expenses of the probation department. The City Court's probation department is the largest department in the court, using most of the copiers, paper, and other assorted supplies.

On October 8, 2013, Judge Paras issued his order, which provides as follows:

ORDER ON COMPLAINT FOR MANDAMUS AND/OR PERMANENT MANDATORY INJUNCTION
Plaintiff appeared with attorney Jon Schmoll, Defendant Lenny Franciski appeared with attorney Stephen Bower, and all other Defendants appeared by attorney Stephen Bower, on September 25, 2013. Case submitted to the Court on the issues of Plaintiffs Verified Complaint in Mandamus and/or for Preliminary and Permanent Mandatory Injunction. Upon careful consideration of the evidence and arguments presented, the Court now rules as follows:
1. Plaintiff's 2012-2013 court budget is reasonable and necessary for the efficient operation of the East Chicago City Court, and therefore the Court grants a permanent injunction enjoining the ...

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