Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Small Claims Court Judge Sues Drummer

Center Township Small Claims Court Judge Paula Lapossa (D) has filed a lawsuit against Center Township Trustee Carl Drummer for meddling in the budget and hiring decisions of the small claims court. The Star's Jon Murray has the story:

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 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.
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.

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.

22 comments:

Wilson46201 said...

You are 30 years too late in precribing Hoosier law - the Legislature abolished the old Justice of the Peace Courts in 1976 and placed administration of each new Township Small Claims Court firnly in the hands of the elected Trustee. The budget approval process is firmly in the hands of the elected seven-person Township Board. This true for all such courts in Marion County.

This case is truly bizarre considering Lopossa is retiring in a week or so. She didn't run for re-election.

According to the reporter, what you see online now is a first fraft of the story. It will be different in tomorrow's paper...

Anonymous said...

It took guts to break from the party and push for what is right....Carl Drummer and Al Capone had something in common.

Advance Indiana said...

The trustee is statutorily required to furnish the courtroom space and supplies necessary to run the court. The township board sets the budget and the salary for the judge and court employees. The trustee writes the checks. The circuit court judge sets the hours of operation for the court. A small claims court judge may:
(1) issue and direct all process to individuals and corporations necessary to exercise the jurisdiction of the court;
(2) make all proper judgment, sentences, decrees, and orders; and
(3) do all acts necessary or proper in conformity with state laws;
assisted as necessary by the clerk of the circuit court.

I would argue the small claims court judge has inherent, if not expressed statutory authority to hire court employees to assist her in complying with state laws.

Abdul said...

gary,

This same thing is going on Lawrence.

Anonymous said...

The Trustee is not the statutory final authority in hiring the staff, although it's been attemtped by the power-grabbing and hungry Center Township Trustee.

AI's post point No. 3, lifted from statute, is all the authority a small claims judge needs to run her court without interference by the trustee. Contrary to Wilson's assertions, a township judge has the statutory authority, perhaps even the obligation, to hire the staff and procure the supplies/equipment/space necessary to run the court.

As a sidebar, Paula is one of the kindest, most even-keeled persons I've ever known in politics or the law. She's evidently fed up.

By the by, I believe this is one more example that the antiquated township government system needs to be abolished.

And Wilson, go to law school or quit practicing. You're no good at it. Are you so lame as to fall for anything Drummer does, without checking to see if it's appropriate?

Hint: if there's a question of appropriateness, where Drummer is involved, he's likely doing it for power or money, or both.

It's kinda sick.

Wilson46201 said...

For the anonymous "lecturer" above: as the Center Township Clerk for 14 years, I am not unacquainted with the relevant law and practices we are discussing. I stay out of immigration law or school board law though!

Anonymous said...

This goes deeper then just Carl Drummer, this is the Ghetto Mafia at work--business as usual.
You see, the center township offices belongs to THEM, the Ghetto Mafia, not the elected candidate. This is the power one gives up to be the "slated" candidate in Center.

Except this time we are listening [and] someone has the courage to walk out the door with a nice SLAM. There have been others who left with a slam, but no one was listening...

Erin said...

On a slightly different track- one thing the article mentions that is of great concern to me is specific to the translater not getting paid. Disclaimer- this is a field that I have worked in so I tend to see it as important. Making sure that all citizens in a courtroom know what is happening and are able to participate in the legal process is a major component of justice and fairness. Hopefully, this won't prevent/deter qualified translators from offering their services.

Peter said...

Gary and others are right about the general independence of marion county small claims courts, both constitutionally and statutorily; the relationship of the court to the trustee is basically like the relationship of a superior court to a county council. That is, the court basically runs its own business, within statutory limits and the council is obligated to fund the court's operations. As far as I can tell, a small claims court has the same power of mandate under trial rule 60.5 as a superior court.

It would be interesting to see Lapossa's specific claims, though - maybe someone will scan the pleadings and put up a link.

Advance Indiana said...

I will be interested to see if Lapossa's successor will pursue the suit once Lapossa's term ends. I'm betting she won't--bringing it to closure without Judge Miller ever issuing an order or final ruling. The Indiana Law Blog will post a link to the Complaint as soon as Marcia can track down a copy.

Erin said...

AI-
Question: Can't the unnamed pro tem judge and translator bring a claim for unpaid wages in...Small Claims Court? Assuming the amounts are at the $2200 range. Someone has to pay them for their services already rendered. Who would hear the case? Just curious if anyone knows how that would play out.

Advance Indiana said...

Erin, yes, they can bring an independent claim. I believe they were employed as independent contractors and not employees, though, so they would have a breach of contract claim instead of an unpaid wage claim. They would probably want to bring their claim in a court other than Center Township Small Claims Court.

Erin said...

Not to get too lawyerly, but, can they join their claims to LaPossa's and have J. Miller rule on all of it together? I guess it matters who signed (approved)their contract. Center township board? From the statute that is who it appears to be. Final question: if it was a seperate claim- would they file in Superior Ct. or can they go to another township small claim court?

Anonymous said...

The very definition of irony...take the case to a small claims court.

We have a new (Democratic) judge in our township come Jan.1. Maybe it could be filed there.

And Wilson, how can the rest of us sign up for the same "no contact order" you've described at 8:07, that school law and immigration law folks get? We'd love to be free of your pronouncements, given they're usually off-base or slave to the Drummer/Carson/Duncan crowd.

Hoosier Pete said...

"The rift between Lapossa and Drummer is a sign of Carson's waning influence."

That's kind of a stretch, don't you think, AI?

Granted, I don't care for Carson either, but her influence isn't waning based on this incident. That's wishful thinking on your part.

Stick a little more closely to suppositions that you can make confidently and based on the evidence at hand. Avoid your obvious bias and you will be more successful.

Anonymous said...

Hoosier Pete:

I'm a Dem precinct committeeman, long involved in slating, etc.

Trust me, if Paula filed this lawsuit, it is a sign that Julia's influence is waning.

No other possible explanation. Paula's been in office and fusisng with Drummer over this for a decade, give or take. The probleml escalated because of the unpaid translator and pro-tem judge, but it's been there, percolating, for a long time.

Many of us have known of this feud, albeit a quiet one, for years.

She dared not file it sooner because the Queen wouldn't allow dissention.

Anonymous said...

I am not unacquainted

Double negative.

fraft

Don't you mean "draft" ... you know what you likely dodged in the 1960's and and having a few too many "drafts" at 5:30 PM .. Happy Hour?

Erin said...

9:09- Riiight. Look, there is a story here and a legitimate issue that needs to be determined by a court. Power disputes among township officials are not unusual and their duties are linked in oftentimes bizarre ways (reread the statute for a perfect example). Trying to link this to the Congresswoman simply raises a problem for YOUR credibility. Stick to the issues at hand instead of flying off in conspiracy land. This obsession with thinking that all black elected officials have no ability to think, act or decide things without the Congresswoman spelling every tiny detail out for them is frankly ridiculous. Yes, I am sure the Congresswoman and the Mayor and the Sheriff and lots of other people DO have opinions and influence about things in Center Twp. That is called POLITICS- it is not strange or improper. Just like how the Governor participates in recruiting candidates for the statehouse and is involved in decisions for county chairs. If you don't like Carl Drummer, then don't like him- whatever. But, stop acting like he is some empty vessel who doesn't have any responsibilty for his own actions. At the end of the day, Carl does what he thinks is best (or apparently in your opinion, not best) just like everybody else.

Anonymous said...

Oh, my, 3:06, you are out of touch.

Erin said...

4:14- Thank you so much! You have no idea how much you just made me laugh.

Anonymous said...

Well, Erin--if you believe what you typed, in addition to being young, you ar naive and out of touch, all at once.

Something this big would not have happened with the "old" Julia. Or, she'd have been angry as hell.

She prefers calm waters.

Not as possible any more.

Fed up said...

Erin, you said:

But, stop acting like he is some empty vessel who doesn't have any responsibilty for his own actions. At the end of the day, Carl does what he thinks is best (or apparently in your opinion, not best) just like everybody else.

Erin, this is exactly our point:

Carl does what HE thinks is best.

The problem is, Carl Drummer is not smart enough--he has no credentials to speak of, and I'd be surprised if he can produce a high-school diploma--to know whats best for the trustees office, so now tell me, how and the hell is he going to now whats best for the judges office.

Remember, idiots don't self-diagnose and center townhip is filled with idiots gone-wild.

'nuff said?