Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Class Action Suit Filed Against Marion County Traffic Court

A class action lawsuit filed today in Marion Superior Court alleges that the policies of the county's traffic court run by Judge William Young violate the constitutional rights of defendants who appear before the court to challenge traffic citations issued against them. Specifically, the lawsuit claims that the court's policy of automatically assessing a $500 fine against anyone who loses a case tried in front of the court amounts to excessive fines in violation of the U.S. and Indiana Constitutions. The lawsuit complains that the court's website suggests the court could assess fines up to $10,000 plus court costs if it finds against a defendant. It also complains about the "closed courtroom" rules imposed by the court; only defendants are allowed to enter the courtroom.

The complaint specifically identifies the grievances of three defendants. Toshinao Ishii complains that he was ordered to pay $549.50 after he lost a speeding ticket he was issued for traveling 8 miles per hour over the posted speed limit on I-465. If Ishii had simply pleaded guilty to the traffic offense, he would have been required to pay a fine of only $149.50. Matthew Stone complained about a citation he was issued for improperly wearing a seatbelt. Stone, who wears a pacemaker, had been advised to wear the seatbelt in an irregular manner to avoid injuring the pacemaker. Stone wanted to challenge the citation, but he feared the additional $500 fine the court warned would be assessed against him if it found against him. A third plaintiff, Adam Lenkowsky, complains that he was denied access to the courtroom on September 23, 2009 by a court bailiff.

The complaint also raises constitutional concerns about the new Parking Citation Court. A press release issued by Deputy Controller Michael Mendez warned that people who do not pay their parking tickets prior to their scheduled hearing may be fined up to $2,500. The lawsuit alleges the threatened fine is not authorized by law and is intended to punish those who exercise their right to a trial. Constitutional issues raised in the lawsuit include excessive fines in violation of the 8th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, Article I, Section 16 of the Indiana Constitution, Equal Protection Clause violations under the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and Indiana's privileges and immunities clause under Article I, Section 12 of the Indiana Constitution.

The class action lawsuit was filed by attorney and fellow blogger Paul Ogden. The case has been assigned to Judge John Hanley in Superior Court 11. Ogden has posted a statement on the lawsuit on his blog, which you can view here.

9 comments:

HOOSIERS FOR FAIR TAX said...

THUMBS UP!

Paul K. Ogden said...

Gary,

Thanks for the post.

Actually I don't think we said right to a trial by jury in complaint, rather just the right to a trial. We didn't get into the whole issue of whether you're entitled to a jury trial for a traffic infraction.

Bottom line is you can't fine someone for exercising their right to trial.

Thanks again for the plug.

Advance Indiana said...

Duly noted and corrected, Paul.

Guest said...

Not to mention for very minor offences you can opt for a deferal which they will not report to your insurance. The catch is you must pay $150 bribe to get it. Something wrong with the attitude.

Indy4U2C said...

I think that those who clog our courts with unnecessary litigation create costs that they themselves should bear! If one admits an infraction then there is no need for a judge's time, staff time in the courtroom, heating/cooling a building, security costs are less, and justice is administered. If you drive up the costs, by denying an infraction you know you are guilty of you should pay!

Indy Student said...

Indy4u2c,

I believe you completely missed the point. No one is contesting that court costs are reasonable. But the threat of $500 (according to Young) to $10,000 (according to Traffic Court's web site) are beyond court costs and are a fine because someone dared to bring their case to a court.

Advance Indiana said...

It costs $136 to file most civil suits in the superior and circuit court in Marion County. Those cases consume considerably more time and resources from the court than the traffic cases. There is no relationship between the fee the court is charging in these traffic cases and the court's costs in administering them.

Sean Shepard said...

BTW - has anyone tried to get through to traffic court the past few months? Busy signal after busy signal I am told. They appear to be undertrunked and/or understaffed and increasing the burden on citizens trying to contact the court.

Indy4U2C ... Perhaps legislators need to quit passing stupid laws. Seat belt infractions? Seriously? Legislators are the ones clogging the courts.

Oh, and nothing like standing outside my car in the rain trying to strap three kids into their car seats (it's illegal if I don't after all!), which are scrunched so close together I can barely get my hand between them to do so (which means it takes longer). I think mom was just fine tossing four of us in the back of the station wagon or van when I was kid.

See you at the movies said...

You should check out a class action law suit just filed on 10/26/10 in Perry County Indiana against the Prosecutor's office and the County for plea bargains that give the defendant the "choice" of paying a $10,000 fine or making a "voluntary" donation of $500 to a Law Enforcement Fund run by the Prosecutor.