Batesville Herald Tribune, Batesville, Indiana

January 3, 2014

Online reports reveal county courts data

Debbie Blank The Herald-Tribune
The Batesville Herald-Tribune

---- — In Indiana trial courts in 2012, 1.6 million new cases were filed. That’s just one of many numbers in a collection of online reports that shed light on the Hoosier justice system.

Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Brent Dickson pointed to their accessibility. “There are multiple volumes with more than 1,800 pages of information,” including statistics at the county level.

Readers may view the 2012 Indiana Judicial Service Report and Probation Report at www.in.gov/judiciary/admin/3118.htm, Supreme Court Annual Report at www.in.gov/judiciary/supreme/2484.htm and a Web site with comparative data at https://publicaccess.courts.in.gov/ICOR/report/index.

In Franklin County’s Circuit Court Division 1 and Division 2, 4,234 cases were pending Jan. 1, 2012, according to the Indiana Judicial Service Report Volume II. By Dec. 31 of that year, that number had risen to 4,396.

In Ripley County’s Circuit and Superior courts, 1,922 cases were pending Jan. 1, 2012. By year’s end, 1,972 cases were in the system.

It’s challenging to lower the number of cases waiting for justice because new cases keep getting filed. In Franklin County, that number totalled 2,878, which included 223 serious felony charges, 353 criminal misdemeanors and 1,168 infractions. The highest categories of civil filings were 267 civil collections, 174 protective orders and 113 domestic relations problems.

Ripley County clerk’s office employees were keeping track of documents for 2,615 new cases, which included 226 felony charges and 353 criminal misdemeanors. There were no infractions handled by the two county courts. Instead, the Versailles Town Court oversaw 1,167 and the Batesville City Court 350. The top categories of civil filings were 717 civil collections, 381 small claims, 156 protective orders, 151 domestic relations issues and 124 mortgage foreclosures.

Two jury trials took place in Franklin County Circuit Court Division 1 Judge Steven Cox’s courtroom in 2012. They both involved Class C felonies, such as involuntary manslaughter, robbery, burglary and reckless homicide.

Ripley County juries decided the fates of four defendants. Circuit Court Judge Carl Taul presided at three trials: one Class A (examples are kidnapping, voluntary manslaughter or arson), one Class B (such as aggravated battery, rape, child molesting and armed robbery) and one civil tort. Superior Court Judge James Morris oversaw a Class D felony case, such as theft and fraud.

In many more cases, bench trials were used, which means at least one witness is sworn in and the judge decides the outcome. In Ripley County, Morris completed 66 bench trials: 50 protective orders, 10 small claims, two each criminal misdemeanors and civil miscellaneous, and one each civil plenary and civil collections. Taul ruled after 39 trials: 30 domestic relations, three each juvenile child in need of services and juvenile delinquency, two juvenile miscellaneous, and one civil plenary.

In Franklin County, 27 decisions were made by Cox: eight domestic relations, six civil plenary (usually more complex than foreclosures or debt collections), five juvenile delinquency, four civil miscellaneous, two adoption, and one each foreclosure and civil collection. Clay Kellerman, Circuit Court Division 2 judge, decided 41 trials: 12 small claims, eight domestic relations, seven civil plenary, six civil miscellaneous,five criminal misdemeanors, two foreclosures, and one infraction.

Many more cases were disposed by final judicial determination with no witnesses sworn and no evidence introduced. Morris’ bench disposition total was 459. The largest categories: 186 small claims and 153 civil collections. Taul determined the outcomes of 359 of these cases. The top two types were 134 domestic problems and 89 miscellaneous criminal.

Cox made 242 such decisions, including 90 protective orders, 48 domestic relations, 39 juvenile paternity, 19 civil claims, 18 civil miscellaneous, seven juvenile delinquency, five each civil plenary, foreclosures and reciprocal child support enforcement, three guardianships, two adoptions and one juvenile miscellaneous. Kellerman’s bench disposition total was 136: 46 protective orders, 38 civil claims, 36 domestic relations, 10 foreclosures, three small claims, two civil miscellaneous and one civil plenary.

The report shows 459 Ripley County defendants pleaded guilty, 46 percent for criminal misdemeanors and 33 percent for Class D felonies. In Franklin County, 1,326 defendants pleaded guilty, 73 percent for infractions.

No cases in either county were venued out in 2012. Twenty-seven cases were transferred to other courts by Franklin County judges and one Ripley County domestic case was transferred.

Hundreds of cases were dismissed that year, either by the court, upon the motion of a party or a settlement agreement. At the Versailles courthouse, Morris dismissed 430, two-thirds for money squabbles (153 small claims and 120 civil collections). Taul dismissed 65 cases, 42 percent for domestic problems.

Kellerman dismissed 155, including 33 small claims. Cox oversaw 184 dismissals, with one-fourth involving civil collections.

When a defendant fails to comply with trial rules in civil cases, a judgment of default is entered by the court. This happened 411 times in Ripley County and 212 times in Franklin County.

If a prosecutor and defendant agree to defer prosecution or for the defendant to enter a diversion program, the case ends up in the deferred/diverted category. The total in Franklin County was 237 and in Ripley County 97, mostly for criminal misdemeanors.

At the Brookville courthouse, 171 defendants failed to appear or failed to pay in infraction cases that are typically traffic related. None were reported in Ripley County as those were handled at the city court level.

Some cases were closed for a variety of reasons – estate, adoption, trust termination, guardianship, if a defendant filed bankruptcy or the case is removed to federal court. In 2012, this happened 61 times in Franklin County and 201 times in Ripley County.

One thousand, two hundred and eighty Ripley County and 828 Franklin County defendants chose to represent themselves rather than hire attorneys or have them appointed.

Spanish court interpreters were needed for 21 criminal misdemeanor and 13 D felony cases in Ripley County. One was requested for a Franklin County B felony case with foreign language not specified in the report.

A chart on Court-Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) volunteer programs noted there wasn’t one that year in Franklin County. In Ripley County, 10 volunteers tallied 881 hours, speaking up for and helping investigate what would be best for the welfare of 35 abused and neglected children.

A related article on finances of courts in both counties will be published Jan. 7.

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

State trends • In 2012, filings amounted to one felony for every 91 residents, one misdemeanor for every 39 residents and one infraction for every 10 residents. • Of the total new cases filed, many categories increased: murder, 21.8 percent; mortgage foreclosure, 11.9 percent; mental health, 9.8 percent; miscellaneous criminal, 6.5 percent; CHINS (Child In Need of Services), 6.2 percent; and termination of parental rights, 18.2 percent. • Other types of case filings decreased: civil miscellaneous, 12.1 percent; Class A felonies, 9.1 percent; juvenile delinquency, 5.5 percent. • Statewide, statistical trends from 2003-12 show the recession impacted total cases filed, which peaked in 2008. Criminal, civil, juvenile and mortgage foreclosure cases all were at their highest around 2007 and 2008. • During that time period, Hoosier adoption cases have risen by 15.3 percent.