Others including Paul Ogden have weighed in on this today, and I plan to blog more on this tomorrow. The Wall Street Journal took a look at the crazy way that creditors can file small claims court cases in Marion County today. Again, more on this tomorrow.
Back in October, 2010, I covered a candidates' forum at the Decatur Township Civic Council. Steve Terrell, who was running for Small Claims Court Judge, pointed out that there is truly apparently little justice in small claims cases and that it has become a cash cow for township government. I'll let my account of what happened take over from there.
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...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.
By the way, Judge Fisher never responded.
The result: You get the government you deserve. Fisher was handily reelected, and the court practices go on. Again, more tomorrow.