Batesville Herald Tribune, Batesville, Indiana

February 7, 2014

Plenty of cases for city court

Debbie Blank The Herald-Tribune
The Batesville Herald-Tribune

---- — Because Batesville is that rare city located in two counties, Batesville City Court Judge John Kellerman II hears cases from both Ripley and Franklin.

Starting his seventh year as judge, he explains, “There are no cases that come to my court automatically except if somebody is accused of violating a city ordinance.” In other cases, it's up to county prosecutors or plaintiffs whether or not they want to use the city court.

On Jan. 1, 2012, 697 cases were pending in the court, according to the 2012 Indiana Judicial Service Report and Probation Report. During the year, there were 524 new filings.

In 2012, the Batesville court disposed of 556 cases – 371 infractions, 146 civil collections, 32 ordinance violations, three civil plenary cases (a Latin term that means powerful or plenty, the dispute could involve money or an activity) and four miscellaneous civil problems. The city court doesn't have jurisdiction over felony cases.

On Dec. 31 of that year, the court had 665 pending cases.

Kellerman, who usually schedules court appearances on Wednesday afternoons because he also has a private law practice, conducted 55 bench trials in 2012. Forty-six were civil collection lawsuits.

He also made decisions during trials about seven infractions and two ordinance violations.

The judge ruled as well on nine infractions and 25 civil collections without trials, which is called “bench disposition” in the report. This means no witnesses were sworn and no evidence was introduced.

Kellerman dismissed 50 cases in 2012: 15 infractions, one ordinance violation, three civil plenary cases and 31 civil collections. He explains, "Sometimes the person will get charged with an infraction or criminal offense and these are folks that have pending charges in other courts, too. Sometimes the prosecutor, as part of the negotiation process, will agree to dismiss charges in one court in exchange for a guilty plea in another court." A lawsuit also could get dismissed if a plaintiff tells the court, "'I don't want to pursue my case anymore.'"

Fifty-four defendants failed to comply with the trial rules so judgments of default were entered by the court.

Eight infractions were diverted by the judge. He explains, “Under Indiana law, the county prosecutor, when an infraction occurs (such as no seat belt, speeding or running a stop sign) can choose to divert” it if the person has a clean record. The defendant signs an agreement with the prosecutor, admitting guilt. He or she pays a fine and court costs and must stay out of trouble for a time period. If that happens, the diverted case will get dismissed.

Two persons charged with infractions admitted they were guilty, according to the report.

By far the majority of city court cases, 329 involving infractions and ordinance violations, were handled through a violations bureau. In Batesville, that's clerk Debbie Krause. According to the report, “a defendant makes an admission, pleads nolo contendere (Latin for “I do not wish to contest”) or pays a fine ... through the clerk” or mail rather than in court.

Twenty failed to appear or failed to pay for infractions.

Four civil cases were closed that year, most likely due to bankruptcies.

The local court spent $81,538 in 2012, $7,562 less than its $89,100 budget approved by the city council. Almost 93 percent of that was on wages and benefits. Salary expenditures totalled $75,295: $23,547 for the part-time judge's salary, $33,342 for the full-time clerk's pay and $18,406 for her benefits.

Expenses that included $2,407, rentals and technology; $1,446, miscellaneous; $1,200, other services; $500, postage; $405, printing; and $285, supplies; totalled up to $6,243.

While defendants paying fines may think the local court keeps all the dollars, that's not true. The judge reports, “A significant portion of the money we collect has to be turned over to the state of Indiana.”

Of all the fees and costs collected, Krause estimates about 20 percent goes to the counties, about 25 percent to the city and 55 percent to the state to fund Indiana State Police, highways, the general fund and other projects.

If there is a fine involved with an infraction or criminal case, 100 percent of that goes to the state, according to the judge. If the fine is for an ordinance violation, 100 percent stays with the local jurisdiction.

The Batesville court gathered up $39,366 in fees and fines in 2012 that went to three sources – state, country and local. The state received $24,339, while the counties earned $4,421. Local funding added up to $10,606, half of which came from court costs.

As mandated by state code, that $10,606 went into various funds within the city treasury, such as general, local law enforcement continuing education, court clerk and judicial salaries.

Debbie Blank can be contacted at debbie.blank@batesvilleheraldtribune.com or 812-934-4343, Ext. 113.

First in a two-part series • Part 2: Judge John Kellerman explains the court process, Feb. 11 • The 2012 Indiana Judicial Service Report and Probation Report can be read in its entirety at www.in.gov/judiciary/admin/3118.htm.