Sunday, March 23, 2008

Major Payne Story

Whoever said the only bad press is no press, well...

A day after I critiqued Judge Payne's legislative agenda, the Indianapolis Star ran an astonishing article regarding a Fountain County judge's decision to prohibit an Indianapolis television station from running an interview with a father who believed the Indiana Department of Child Services was "out to get him."

Gary Welsh at Advance Indiana offers his take on the story, which appeared in the Star

The jist is that IU's most quoted law professor, Henry Karlson, says that the Judge's decision borders on "judicial misconduct."

Now, here is a little something that most people DON'T know. Judge Payne caused quite a stir back in late 2007 and early 2008 by sending at least two e-mails to EVERY judge capable of influencing the outcome of Children in Need of Services (CHINS) and Termination of Parental Rights (TPR) trials and appeals. Having read the e-mail, I'd summarize it as a rather one-sided statement extolling DCS's goals and explaining why it's good for kids to get cases moving more quickly (resulting in parents' rights being terminated faster).

While there is technically no reason Judge Payne can't e-mail every juvenile court judge,
Court of Appeals judge, and Indiana Supreme Court judge, isn't there something concerning about the director of an agency with thousands of ongoing cases using his position to persuade the entire state judiciary of "the rightness" of his policies and vision?

If you think so, you're probably not alone. I recently saw Indiana Supreme Court Justice Ted Boehm at the Indiana State Bar Association's legislative reception. As I knew Justice Boehm would have received the earlier Judge Payne e-mail, I knew he'd know the general thrust of of the second missive, which was actually deemed a "follow up").

"Justice Boehm," I asked, "did you receive an e-mail from Judge Payne this week regarding how CHINS and TPR cases are processed?" Justice Boehm was visibly uncomfortable with my question. I say this because he got that look you get when you run into somebody you know while shopping at Priscilla's or Victoria's Secret.

Then he responded in a manner reminiscent of witnesses before Congress. He said, "I think that I did receive an e-mail or communication that I believe was from Judge Payne. But I put it aside in a pile with things to look at later when I (can't remember his exact words here, so I'm paraphrasing VERY roughly) "have some free time" or "am done with more important things."

If the e-mail had been talking about gardening, I firmly believe Justice Boehm's reaction have been different? And as a rule of thumb, if your e-mail makes a supreme court justice nervous, you probably shouldn't send it.

But if these e-mails can help solidify friendships with judges and help get decisions like the one in Fountain County, what are the odds anybody will ever hear about them?


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