Tuesday, July 19, 2011
Stephens, Decatur Court Say WSJ Article Unfairly Portrayed Small Claims Courts in Marion County
I was all set to really light up Pike Township Small Claims Court Judge, Doug Stephens. I was ready to really read him the riot act on this blog and criticize him severely for his comments in a recent Wall Street Journal report on debt collection in Marion County's Small Claims Courts. That was until I talked to him.
The truth is always out there, but Stephens strongly disagreed with the portrayal of him in the article. He says the WSJ reporter, Jessica Silver-Greenburg, took a few of his quotes out of context and that he can't remember saying some of the things attributed to him.
"I'm pretty much the insurance-company judge," Stephens allegedly told Greenburg, and he says he did say those words. Stephens told me that it was in the context that certain townships seem to get certain cases and see more of them than others. He did not mean to insinuate that he is more favorable to insurance companies.
"If you ask around, I'm probably the softy when it comes to defendants," said Stephens who said that he has had lawyers walk out of his court before when they cannot get him to do exactly what they want him to do. Stephens said he has talked creditors into knocking down payments or reducing the amount owed making it easier for the defendants to pay back the money owed. "I tell them that this family is going to file bankruptcy if you continue to push this case."
Stephens also said that the portrayal of him as a gun-totin' "Renaissance Redneck" came from an offhand remark about a Picasso print he recently acquired. He said that he does tote a small gun at times when his constable is not available because there are no metal detectors in Pike Township's Government Center.
I also called the Decatur Township Small Claims Court and talked to Pam Ricker, who was also quoted in the article. Ricker flat out said, "I do not believe that article is right."
Ricker said the writer contacted the court and did not tell them the purpose of the piece. Like Stephens, she claims that Silver-Greenburg took her out of context at times. "I never said that the lack of being on a bus line makes it easier on the creditors. I only pointed out that we used to be on a bus line, but Metro (IndyGo) took that away from us and now we are not. That's very unfortunate."
Silver-Greensburg visited the court on a day when there were a lot of medical cases going through, said Ricker. She said that it does not account for all their business and that the number of filings has been going down due to the number of bankruptcies.
She also took exception to Silver-Greensburg's assertion that the Decatur Court allows unsupervised meetings between attorneys for the creditors and those they are suing, "We do provide cubicles, but we are right there and can hear what the attorney is telling the people. If they have a problem, we tell them that we can easily get them in front of the judge and let him settle the dispute."
As I said, the truth is out there, but these two different courts from two different sides of the political spectrum seem to think that the Wall Street Journal reporter told a different story than the one that they told her.
As an aside, though, this doesn't change this blogger's opinion on forum shopping. The practice of creditors finding the right courts to file in does go on, and, while this article may have been heavy-handed in its methods and even perhaps unfair at times in exposing the issue, forum shopping is something that really does need to stop in Marion County and the State of Indiana. It's a simple fix at the state legislature, and I hope that it gets done.