A lawsuit filed against Center Township Trustee Carl Drummer by the township's small claims judge accuses him of meddling in the court's hiring and budgeting.Judge Lapossa's decision to sue Drummer is notable for two reasons. She is retiring as the small claims court judge at the end of the year; therefore, the outcome of the case will not personally benefit her. Any favorable decision in the case will, however, benefit her successor. Lapossa must feel very strongly about these matters to bring the suit so close to the end of her term.
Judge Paula E. Lapossa filed the suit Monday in Marion Superior Court. It argues the Indiana Constitution allows the court to hire and supervise its employees, determine the court's expenses and provide adequate space.
But the lawsuit says Drummer, the longtime trustee, hasn't provided sufficient office space, equipment or supplies. He also has interfered in hiring court staff and won't pay fees owed this year to a pro-tem judge and an interpreter, the lawsuit says; the pro-tem judge, whose name is not provided, sits in for Lapossa during some sessions and is owed $2,200.
The Center Township Board approves the court's budget, but the lawsuit says Drummer has not consulted the court before presenting its budget.
Drummer called the lawsuit frivolous, but declined to comment on the specific claims. "It’s my belief that the trustee controls the staff," Drummer said, adding the arrangement was similar in other Marion County townships. The situation has not changed in the 10 years both he and Lapossa have been in office, he said.
Lapossa's suit requests a court order barring Drummer from interfering in those areas and an order to pay the fees. The state of Indiana also is listed as a plaintiff, and the township board is listed as a defendant.
The case has been assigned to Judge Gary L. Miller, but not hearing date is set.
Lapossa, like Drummer, is a Democrat with close ties to Rep. Julia Carson (D). Lapossa could not have become the small claims court judge for Center Township without Carson's backing, just as Drummer could not have become township trustee without Carson's backing. You may recall from an earlier post on this blog that Lapossa, as an assistant U.S. Attorney in the late 1970s, prosecuted Carson's ex-husband on federal income tax evasion charges. He was ultimately acquitted of those charges, although his wife was found guilty on one of the charges. The rift between Lapossa and Drummer is a sign of Carson's waning influence.
Under Carson's original plan for the 300 East building now known as the Julia Carson Government Center, then-Trustee Carson said the purchase of the building would allow the township to consolidate all township offices, including the small claims court, into the building. After sinking about $5 million into renovating the building (more than double what Carson had projected), the township instead continued to lease cramped space from the county in the basement of the City-County building for the small claims court. Drummer has sought to lease the building to private businesses instead of using it for township purposes. His most controversial decision in that regard being the leasing of the space for the 300 East bar to a group of political insiders--albeit done illegally because he failed to execute a lease in accordance with Indiana law.
Lapossa's lawsuit should serve as another wake-up call to Marion County Democrats that they had better get a handle on what's happening in Center Townshp. Circumstances already warrant a criminal investigation, which may very well be under way already. In my opinion, the trustee has no business telling the small claims court judge who she can hire to work for the court. Litigants pay fees to fund the court's operations, and the judge should have discretion to spend those funds. The small claims court judge should present her own budget to the township board, not the trustee. Drummer's job is to take care of serving the needy--something he's proven himself completely uninterested and/or incapable of performing.
UPDATE: Jon Murray's story in today's Star indicates that the unpaid pro tem judge is Michelle Smith Scott, who was elected in November to take Lapossa's case.