Thursday, December 10, 2009

Star Editorial On Traffic Court Lawsuit Has A Vindictive Ring

An editorial in today's Star to a class action lawsuit filed by local attorney and fellow blogger Paul Ogden has more of a vindictive ring to it than a well-reasoned opinion piece one would expect from the state's largest newspaper. The editorial describes Ogden as a "gadfly." In case you were wondering, it's not a compliment to be called a gadfly. It's another way of describing someone you consider to be a pest. Begrudgingly, the editorial acknowledges that fines imposed by parties who fight and lose their case are excessive, but it's completely dismissive of the merits of Ogden's lawsuit. "Their lawsuit, captained by gadfly attorney Paul Ogden, accuses Judge Bill Young of discriminating against contesting defendants for the sake of crowd reduction," the editorial proclaims. That's a rather simplistic, over-generalization of the lawsuit. The editorial continues, "At least one constitutional law expert told The Star there's nothing 'unethical' about Young's posting of a sign warning ticket-holders of up to $500 in additional fines." Uh, the lawsuit isn't a case about legal ethics; it's a case about a defendant's constitutional rights to a free and open courtroom without excessive fines and punishments. The identity of the Star's "constitutional law expert" is not disclosed. It is astonishing indeed that a major newspaper would totally ignore the policy of closing the doors to a courtroom to everyone but defendants and their attorneys. It looks to me like this editorial was written for the purpose of showing the editors disdain for Ogden rather than discussing the merits of the lawsuit.


varangianguard said...

Ho Gary, someone got me to reading some old Time magazine articles from their on-line archives and let me tell you that being called a "gadfly" is kiddie stuff compared to some of the descriptions coming off the Time presses during the mid-1930s.
The artfulness of partisan journalism seems to have declined precipituously in the last 70+ years, IMO.

Gary R. Welsh said...

What bothers me about the use of the word is that it's a negative label to attach to someone who supports open and honest government. When I worked for the legislature in Illinois, we had a state legislator who built her career on fighting backdoor legislative pay raises and other legislative perks. She was despised by her colleagues, but the news media chimed in by continually referring to her as a "gadfly" whenever her name came up. Whenever she pushed good government ideas, the media was totally dismissive of her. Look where that left them in Illinois. And who were the ones shouting the loudest in Illinois about the Blagojevich mess last year?

M Theory said...

Well isn't a good thing that 49,000 fewer subscribers read the Star (and that editorial) this year than last year?

I first heard MSM talking about his lawsuit on WIBC midnight news the other night. Then I guess it was on TV too. Did they call him a gadfly?

Like I keep saying, The Indianapolis Star is in the business of selling us advertising circulars these days, not the news. One only need see their spammed subscription pitches to know that reality.

Downtown Indy said...

Given Ryerson's disdain for being called names ('liar') you'd think he would set a better example.

Gary R. Welsh said...

Good point, Downtown Indy. His editorial on the Wishard referendum was a lie, and if you read his follow-up explanation, it was abundantly clear just how misleading his editorial was, notwithstanding his protestations to the contrary.

Cato said...

The Star is nothing but the mouthpiece of the Indy power elite.

The entire paper is an editorial. It's phony news. It's a marriage of government to the press, akin to the USSR.

A city Indy's size should have another paper, but Indy residents think it patriotic to accept whatever opinion the elite delivers to them. Review of other news would make the reader a troublemaker and a malcontent.

patriot paul said...

The 'gadfly' shows predisposition and strikes of something one would see in a socialite tabloid article, or a news reporter trolling the Statehouse hallways looking for a soundbite.
The Star has the right conclusion on going forward, but for the wrong reasons: The economy? The recession? Conclusion: Heaven forbid we sock it to the citizen in these poor times according to Star sentiment. If the Star patronizes the legal inquiry like it does its subscribers, look for more to not renew.

Blog Admin said...

This is truly disgusting.

Don't be fooled when they reach the conclusion of supporting the lawsuit. They don't. By referring to myself and Ishii as "losers", it's a not-so-subtle way of saying our claims are without merit. It's important to point out that they don't care (probably don't understand) about the constitutional violations, but instead make an appeal to emotion via the recession.

With backhanded support like this, who needs opposition?

Paul K. Ogden said...

Thanks for the support, Gary. I wasn't that offended by "gadfly" though. One of the definitions talks about persistence on behalf of a cause. It doesn't say the cause is meritless. That's the definition I'm going to go along with.

I was more disappointed by the tone of the editorial that seemed a bit wishy-washy about issues that should have been slam dunk for the paper. I noticed they missed the open courtroom issue which is a huge issue to media types.

I thought Henry Karlson was the constitutional expert. Maybe I misread it.

I agree the lawsuit isn't about "ethics." I'm sure they took Prof. Karlson out of context when they focused on that statement.

I'll review your post more in a bit, Gary. I'm off to give the final exam in my class.

Gary R. Welsh said...

Paul, I've never seen someone in the news media use the term gadfly to describe someone and mean it in anything less than a negative way. Yes, Prof. Karlson is the constitutional expert to whom the Star spoke as I've since learned. He is quite knowledgeable, as you know, on these matters, and he raises some valid points about the deficiency of your lawsuit's claims.

Paul K. Ogden said...


I didn't see where the Star called Ishii or you "losers."

The thrust of the article I think is that they were supporting our position, but that support was probably tempered because I'v ehad several blog posts complaining about the Star's lack of even handedness when it comes to good, honest government issues. The way the Star repeatedly ignored unfair, dishonest things going on in the Wishard referendum was really a disgrace.

Even if "gadfly" is taken negatively, when they start calling you names, that's a sign you're winning.

It is easy to dwell on the negative or the editorial not being stronger. But if you were on the other side, the editorial was nothing but bad for Traffic Court. They made it clear they did not agree with the policy of fining people several hundred more dollars for trying their cases.

I'm still surprised they ignored the open courtroom issue. That's a slam dunk issue legally and one that should be near and dear to the heart of journalists.

Paul K. Ogden said...


I'll have to disagree that Prof. Karlson pointed to any deficiency in our complaint. I dug up what Prof. Karlson said as quoted by the Star:


At least one legal expert, however, said Young's practice of informing defendants of possible fines does not violate the law.

"That, in and of itself, is not unethical, in my opinion," said Henry Karlson, emeritus professor of law at the Indiana University School of Law-Indianapolis.

"He's merely telling you that this is the risk you are taking by pleading not guilty, and he is informing you of your rights."


If they were just informing people of possible penalties should they try their case, then I'd probably agree with Prof. Karlson. But they're doing a heck of a lot more than that. They have a blanket rule in traffic court of imposing a several hundred dollars fine against people who have the temerity to ask for a trial and lose.

The fine is not based on the evidence adduced at trial. It's based on the fact that the person asked for a trial and lost. They're punishing people for asking for a trial, which the person has a constitutional right to have.

Given that Prof. Karlson's statement seems based on only a portion of the facts, I wonder if his comment might have been taken out of context. I doubt Prof. Karlson really believes a court can fine someone several hundred dollars because they asked for a trial. Again, it's not the warning of the range of possible penalties, it's the impostion of a hefty hundred dollar fine because the person asked for a trial. That's the problem.

dcrutch said...

I think you've nailed it that the paper doesn't care about the message as much as disparaging the messenger. If they don't reap it or it doesn't come from a canned news service, AP or worse(with their 10+ reporters on the Sarah Palin beat versus two on health care) - it's "not news" to them.

Concerned Taxpayer said...

You know...running a court is not CHEAP.
Being able to mail in your fine at a lower rate saves court time, expense, nerves, parking, etc.
If you are innocent and want to fight the charge, you don't have to be concerned about the "extra" charge.
If you just want to try to beat the system...too bad.

Blog Admin said...

Concerned Taxpayer,

The officer and/or the law that writes the ticket and decides the price isn't giving anyone a break when they do so. That's the price for breaking the law.

Running a court isn't cheap. But as Gary Welsh has pointed out, it runs about $130 to bring a civil trial to court. That includes a jury and a much more extensive trial. Traffic court hearings have no jury and are done within a fraction of the time. These are much more than court costs that the judge is tacking on.

For a concerned taxpayer, you defending this is kind of ironic.

Paul K. Ogden said...


The are imposing an additional $400 or $500 on everyone who dares try the cse. They are not "court costs." They are punishing people for exercising a constitutional right. I'm confident that practice will not be allowed to stand.

Linda Thompson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cato said...


Do you have any idea of just what a whopper of a circular argument you've just proffered?

Think about it.

Cato said...

Is this **the** Linda Thompson? The LT who used to receive "private" protection from IPD, when they would station unmarked cars across from her law office and watch her, for hours, without a warrant or probable cause?