Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Things Get Heated at Decatur Twp. Forum

At last night's Decatur Township Civic Council Candidates' Forum, Judge Bill Fisher, of the Decatur Township Small Claims Court, got a little hot under the collar when Democratic candidate Steve Terrell brought up that collection cases seemed to get filed in Decatur Township's court because the court seems to, by its own representation, value revenue over fairness.

Fisher took the comment personally and attempted to lodge an objection to Terrell's statement. He shouted something unintelligible about his judicial record and then was lightly pulled back down by his arm into his chair by Decatur Township Trustee, Steve Rink. He later apologized for, "losing his cool." One way or another, it showed, in my opinion, bad temperament for a sitting judge. He also refused afterwards to shake Terrell's hand.

The truth of the matter is that Fisher had just explained...out of his own mouth...what a cash cow the Decatur Township Small Claims Court has become for Decatur Township government. He said that since he became judge in 2007 that the court moved from 8th in the county to 3rd in the number of cases filed. With the accompanying filing fees, court costs, and judgments, Fisher called the Decatur Small Claims Court a "valuable asset."

Here's something you might not know, plaintiffs such as collection agencies, hospitals, or landlords can file small claims cases in any small claims court in Marion County. You can shop for a court. If a specific court seems favorable, you can file there. The Decatur Township location is particularly attractive because it doesn't sit on a bus line. That makes it more difficult for, let's say, a person that doesn't drive to get down to the courtroom and provide a defense.

None of this shouldn't be construed to be personal towards Judge Fisher. He's a truly nice guy. It's just that the manner in which his courtroom operates is absolutely fair game for Terrell. It's the issue of the campaign for many who feel as if they did not get a fair shake in the court itself due to the pressure or the philosophy of the court as a cash cow.

The question, I guess, is should the Small Claims Court be more about making money or more about making fair judgments? For Fisher, it seems he wants to be fair, but it's also that he seems to be more about making money for the township than fairness. Perception can be reality.

I invite Judge Fisher to respond to this blog post if he believes I have been unfair.

Also at the forum, Decatur Township Trustee, Steve Rink, a Republican, debated his opponent, Alexis Skriloff James, the Democrat. James was recently endorsed by the Fraternal Order of Police Local 86. She pledges to beef up poor relief in the township and maintain the township fire department.

Democrat Timothy Huber went toe-to-toe with longtime Rep. Bob Behning, the Republican, in the House District 91 forum. Huber has improved each run and now seems to be hitting his stride as a candidate. He gave reasoned, passionate responses to the questions he was answered. Behning, a local flower shop owner, figures to be the GOP member that will chair up the House Education Committee. He's also a staunch advocate for charter schools, vouchers, and initiatives such as merit pay.


AtlasShrugged said...

Landlords are restricted to filing in the township the property is located in. But others are free to forum shop. And this forum shopping is what has driven up the revenues of Decatur Township while driving down the revenues of Warren Township.

Jon E. Easter said...

Thank you for the clarification Atlas.

Had Enough Indy? said...

I got to the meeting late - heard Fisher apologize for losing his cool.

This issue of shopping for the most receptive small claims court is a long-standing 'tradition'. It deserves scrutiny by the Superior Court, to my way of seeing things.

But, it does make one wonder exactly what the forum shoppers see in the Decatur Court that makes it so appealing to them.

It surely is an issue open for vigorous debate during the election, and vigorous scrutiny after.

Anonymous said...

In my opinion,Fisher is an idiot. So,I'm not surprised by the emotional outburst.

Also in my opinion,the Court is a "business". A business that depends upon the "repeated" patronage of its "customers". I can understand why Fisher would react in such a manner. He's not accustomed to being challenged. In all fairness to Fisher,this "business acumen" isn't something new to this particular court.

Btw,is this Judge Fisher related to the former Judge Fisher of this very same court? Judge Jeffrey Berg served during the intervening years.