Chief Justice Brent Dickson on Wednesday delivered the 2014 State of the Judiciary Address to a joint session of the Indiana General Assembly.
During introductory remarks, he congratulated Chief Judge Margret Robb on successful retirement from her three-year term leading the Court of Appeals — the first female to hold that position. Another woman, Nancy Vaidik, is now chief judge.
A straightforward and succinct way to highlight the chief justice's salient points is by the numbers. Here are several, leading with some that stand out as particularly noteworthy or alarming.
A sobering reality: Across this state more than 16,000 abused and neglected children are involved with court system and more than 3,500 people volunteer as court-appointed special advocates to serve them in 63 certified programs across 78 counties.
Meanwhile, the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative, which is now working in 19 counties with 56 percent of the state's "court-involved youth" is expanding as Dickson reported "a 44 percent reduction in juvenile admissions to secure detention, a 40 percent reduction in average daily population in secure detention and 18 percent drop in youth Department of Corrections commitments – all with no increase in re-offense rates." The 18-member Commission on Improving the Status of Children in Indiana is also working to help secure brighter futures for the state's next generations.
Another amazing stat judiciary researchers derived through analysis of Odyssey case management data: Of all civil cases, 63 percent of the parties involved were not represented by counsel. In family law cases, 60 percent of litigants do not have attorneys.
"When people are in court without a lawyer, bad things happen," Dickson said.
The chief justice's comments on the work of the Mortgage Foreclosure Trial Court Assistance Program highlighted the extended effects of the financial crisis. The program conducted more than 22,000 conferences, which Dickson said enabled more than 5,000 agreements that allowed borrowers to stay in their home and avert about $200 million in foreclosure losses.
Just the basic court census numbers are awe-inspiring when one considers the sheer weight of the paperwork at hand: 318 trial courts received over 1.6 million new case filings (up a fraction of a percent over last year) and 547 judicial officers conducted 1,338 civil and criminal jury trials.
Though down 11 percent, over 2,000 appeals were filed at what Dickson called "one of highest volume and most efficient appellate courts in the country."
Indiana Tax Court received 76 new cases, down 8 percent for the year, while filings for consideration by the Supreme Court — at just over 1,000 — rose almost 3 percent.
On disciplinary issues, Dickson noted 1 disbarment and 14 resignations following disciplinary investigation.
The judicial system generates more than $205 million in annual revenue, more than have of what it spends, Dickson said, noting judiciary operating costs represent about 9 cents of every $10 Hoosiers spend on local and state government.
In the quest for justice, the state's 54 problem-solving courts, which are tailored to aid certain classes of defendants, have helped fashion more positive outcomes for people more in need of intervention than prison — 10 more of these courts are in the pipeline. In addition, the nationally recognized Indiana Risk Assessment Tool is helping the Department of Corrections better target rehabilitation efforts to individual needs, Dickson said.
Moving forward, the Supreme Court requested legislative aid in a few areas: by funding further paperwork digitization efforts; implementing systematic changes that will help fix the troubled Marion County Township Small Claims Courts; and to "consider shifting more and more funding of the judicial branch expenses from local government to state funding."
Dickson also congratulated legislators on "masterful achievement last year in revising Indiana's Criminal Code." While "some modifications may be considered this session," he said, "we stress the importance of retaining maximum judicial discretion in criminal sentencing. Individualized sentences reflect the enormous variations among offenders and the crimes they commit."
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