When I set out to trap whatever varmints were stealing our cat’s food I felt confident. After all, I was pretty sure my adversaries were not members of any “… well-regulated militia” nor graduates of any accredited educational institutions nor associated with any liberal or right-wing political groups. I, on the other hand, have had experience surviving struggles with all of these.
As to a well-regulated militia, the United States Air Force should qualify no matter what our U.S. Army soldier son thinks and Indiana University is respected if football is not considered. When it comes to the mish-mash of current political “thought”, I have managed to avoid or ignore the clanging vapidness of extremists on all sides.
Anyway, I counted myself as at least equal to raccoons, opossums, skunks and our only neighbors’ straying house pets. But as coach and television sports analyst Lee Corso might say, “Not so fast, Jim”. Apparently in the war of wits between the purloining pests I am not sufficiently armed.
A few weeks ago when I finally figured out our once feral cat was upset his morning meal kept going missing I contacted my friend Paul Axton who is a Department of Natural Resources Officer. Paul brought me out a trap and showed me how to use it; this took some patience on his part.
As instructed I baited it with giant marshmallows (who knew?) and set it beside the cat’s food tray. My first and only catch was our cat. He was not amused and still tries to claw my hand when I put his food out.
The way this trap is supposed to work one baits it and when a thief enters the trap seeking a marshmallow a metal plate is tripped by the weight of the animal and the only door falls behind it. Unfortunately, our cat is the only animal dumb enough for this to work. On the other hand, perhaps I have furnished enough marshmallows to whatever stealthy animal miscreant is gorging itself on sugar it will catch diabetes. However, it is probably more likely to die laughing at my efforts as it dines at my expense.
What this whole imbroglio brings to my mind is one of my favorite poems by Rudyard Kipling entitled If. One of the lines goes something like this (apologies to Kipling):
If you can bear to see
your plans twisted by
varmints to make a trap
for fools …
I guess one just has to determine what fool is being trapped.
p.s. I know I have written about this before, but I figure no one reads these columns anyway and I am really ticked off; I need the therapy.
At their regular meeting held 03 April 2018 the Posey County Board of Commissioners listened attentively and courteously to my plans for an auxiliary courtroom. President Jim Alsop and Commissioners Jay Price and Carl Schmitz asked relevant questions and made helpful suggestions.
A small but highly useful courtroom can be in operation on the first floor of the courthouse within a short time and for relatively little expense, certainly less than $50,000 for the physical plant and about $40,000 per year salary for a full-time court reporter. The judicial officer could be a senior judge or magistrate who would serve as needed. Senior judges are paid by the State of Indiana so there would be no cost to Posey County for a per diem judge. A magistrate would probably have to be paid by the county.
The Posey Circuit Court has not been allowed a new court reporter position for twenty years although I have noted the real need in several budget requests and our caseload has grown dramatically since 1998. The new full-time court reporter could be dedicated to this new court but could help relieve the burden on the existing court reporters when not in session with the on-call judge(s). Mental health, juvenile delinquency, Children in Need of Services and other confidential or sensitive hearings that usually involve few people but can be emotionally draining or rambunctious as well as numerous logistical matters that strain the regular Judge’s docket could be conducted in this smaller courtroom.
And Posey County’s Sheriff and Judges have long sought video capability for inmates, expert witnesses, disabled persons and numerous other routine matters, warrant applications, for example, or confidential electronic meetings between clients and attorneys.
The Commissioners sought to have a joint meeting about these issues with the Posey County Council on April 17, 2018 but schedules of all the necessary participants could not be accommodated for that date. The Commissioners wanted Chief Probation Officer Rodney Fetcher and me to set forth our plans then. As fortune would have it, I had planned to attend that April 17th meeting, but the Commissioners and Council had to reschedule it to May 01, 2018. Rodney will be there prepared to respond to any inquiries, but I will be helping teach other judges at the National Judicial College in Reno, Nevada on that day. Perhaps I can call in or attend electronically. I know we could work out such a video/audio conference if our new courtroom were already in operation.
Tuesday, April 03, 2018 Chief Probation Officer and court factotum Rodney Fetcher and I met with the Posey County Board of Commissioners to discuss the auxiliary courtroom on the first floor of the courthouse. You may recall we have been working toward creating a small but fully functioning courtroom that can greatly enhance public access to court services while aiding the Posey Superior and Circuit Courts to concentrate on other important matters of concern.
The elements of an American courtroom have changed little since the 1600’s: a judge’s bench and judge, places for the opposing parties (usually two), a court reporter with means to keep a record, a witness area and some public seating.
If citizens from Salem, Massachusetts were to hold a witch trial in a contemporary courtroom it would require only a few minutes for them to acclimate to the electricity and technology because these are simply ways we now enhance the attempted delivery of justice; the same justice sought for hundreds of years. Of course, justice is not always the result, but the physical plant is not to blame.
In Posey County, Indiana we have two fully functioning courts of general jurisdiction that often need to have people appear who are incarcerated or may be expert witnesses who have to travel great distances. Our goal of a newly refurbished courtroom would have video conferencing availability connected with our new jail and perhaps unlimited other locations. There would no longer be a need for several sheriff’s deputies to transport inmates to court for most preliminary matters. Trials would still be in person but most other hearings would not. Money and time would be saved while security would be enhanced and public humiliation lessened.
Indiana law allows for Senior Judges, Special Judges and Magistrates to hold hearings while the regular judges are conducting other proceedings. However, in Posey County we need another court facility for such use. Normally a new or renovated courthouse would be quite expensive. But we in Posey County have the opportunity to enhance justice, public service, security and fiscal responsibility by creating one new court reporter position and using some of our historical courthouse furnishings in an existing room in our historical courthouse. And we can have such a courtroom in operation quickly.
The immediate plan is to set up the courtroom for hearings and video conferencing. I estimate we can establish such a courtroom at a cost of less than $50,000 for the courtroom furnishings now plus the salary of one court reporter (approximately $40,000 per year plus regular county benefits to start January 1, 2019). Of course, such decisions are within the purview of the Commissioners and County Council with consultation with the judges.
An intermediate goal is to have Senior Judges, who are paid by the State, Posey County currently uses two on a case-by-case basis, or Special Judges selected for particular matters, conduct hearings in the small courtroom while both regular courtrooms are in session with the regular judges. Initial hearings in criminal matters and confidential family court cases normally do not involve many people. Such matters are well suited to our new small courtroom.
Long term goals might involve the creation of a full-time or part-time Magistrate to have a regular schedule in the new courtroom. On such issues I will defer to the sound judgment of future county officials unless I am requested to engage on this issue. For now, I respectfully suggest it is in Posey County’s best interest to implement the immediate and intermediate plans.
Posey County’s new jail and historic courthouse can now be connected to provide better and cheaper service to citizens. Sheriff Oeth may already have funds in the new jail budget to provide video conferencing between the jail and the courts. Sheriff Oeth and both Posey County judges have long been in favor of video conferencing. Perhaps this important public service can soon be in operation.
The benefits are many and the cost is low. Savings of transportation costs and deputy time along with greatly enhanced security for the public are within reach. And since most of the persons lodged in our jail are awaiting court disposition and, therefore, presumed by law to be innocent, public humiliation experienced from orange jump suits, handcuffs, leg shackles and armed guards can be reduced. And while most cases where video conferencing can enhance justice will be local jail to courthouse matters, we have numerous matters where inmates in state and federal prisons could appear electronically and we sometimes could save a great deal of expert witness expense in both criminal and civil cases.
For the Sheriff’s Department to institute video conferencing another major need is a location at the courthouse. We now, with the requested assistance of the Posey County Board of Commissioners and County Council, are in the process of refurbishing a small courtroom in our 142-year-old courthouse for just such a purpose. The photographs included with this article show the courtroom backdrop which was first used in 1893 and furniture from the 1825 courthouse that has been in the possession of the City of Mt. Vernon since 1893. Mayor Bill Curtis and the Mt. Vernon City Council have graciously returned these historic items for county use.
A small courtroom on the first floor of our courthouse will open up numerous important possibilities for both public service and saving taxpayer funds. While I plan to concentrate on this newly modified space as a Magistrate’s Courtroom to ease the burdens and costs of family type cases, this revamped space can be used for conferences by attorneys, mediation, pre-trial conferences, weddings and extra seating when there is overflow in the courtroom on the second floor.
Okay, we are ready for next week and the devil in the details of a Magistrate’s Court. Hang in there with me and maybe we can all do some good.
Last week we gave some attention to a problem we all know exists but that we wish we could make go away with pixie dust. It is not that you and I or our fellow citizens are uncaring about children and families caught in the maelstrom of child and spousal physical abuse or child sexual abuse or child neglect or alcohol and drug addiction. It is we instinctively know the cure will be painfully expensive and emotionally exhausting, to say nothing of how the resources we dedicate to these problems must be diverted from others. On the other hand, we know if we do not address our Children in Need of Services crisis now society will certainly pay a much greater price later. And that need for current and future self-preservation does not even consider our moral obligations.
When Peg notices a chore at JPeg Ranch that must be done (by me, of course), there is a fairly consistent litany of procedure. She notes something, say a decaying window sill, moles multiplying like moles, a tree about to fall in the pond, well, you get the idea. Here is how things normally progress. I pretend deafness and blindness. When that wears thin I tell her I will take care of it on the weekend. Sometimes I tell her it probably would be cheaper to wait until we have a full-blown disaster. Finally, she prevails with threats of making me turn off a ballgame or, the most unkindest of all, saying she will just call someone else to do it.
At this point I will have to go to Bud’s Hardware at least twice because I can never find where I stored the bolts or screws, etc., from the last time I jerry-rigged a project. Then it comes down to actual manual labor and occasionally a trip to the E-Room for repair of the repairer.
Well, my fellow Posey County citizens that’s where we are with our Child in Need of Services (CHINS) situation. We must take our medicine. As the Circuit Court Judge in charge of judicial solutions to these matters I have been approached by numerous fellow public servants and other concerned citizens with suggestions. Just last week after a morning spent in a two-hour hearing involving one very blended family that required eight publicly appointed attorneys I ran into Posey County Councilman Aaron Wilson who told me he believed we should consider creating a Posey Circuit Court Magistrate position that would be dedicated to children and family cases. This approach to our current crisis has many reasonable elements and great potential benefits, not the least of which is the saving of taxpayer money.
Of course, as Aaron said, our first obligation is to provide public services, but we should attempt to do so in a reasonable manner. Efficiency in government is a good thing. Let’s examine my case from last week.
Because the Posey Circuit Court is charged with handling many important matters besides CHINS cases and there is only one Circuit Judge and only one Circuit Courtroom cases must be jammed into artificial schedules. For example, the same week as the case in question I had criminal felony and misdemeanor cases, probate matters, civil lawsuits, divorce cases and innumerable logistical issues to address. So the CHINS cases had to be stuffed into the space of one day, mainly one morning.
This required numerous publicly appointed attorneys in other cases to wait for hours as we processed the one in front of me. Of course, many citizens were also forced to simply wait around as if the Court were an emergency room at a city hospital. Such a procedure is more akin to the watching sausage being made analogy than seeing justice delivered.
With this in mind, next week I will try to put some drywall compound on Councilman Wilson’s excellent suggestion of a Posey Circuit Court Magistrate, unless, of course, Peg fills my time with as yet unseen disasters at The Ranch.
Some medical conditions, say the flu, can be diagnosed and easily cured. Of course, if the flu is actually pneumonia the patient may not fare so well. Some medical conditions even if correctly identified may not be easily treated, certain cancers for example. And some cancers even if properly addressed may metamorphosize into others that are fatal.
In our Body Politic a serious condition we must either deal with or be permanently affected by is our Child In Need of Services problem. And even if we do not ignore it, a potentially fatal mistake, the cures we apply will be unavoidably complicated and expensive. Of course, to ignore a cancer is to court our own demise.
In this frenetic world of crisis-a-minute news and infuriatingly complex day-to-day existence, we just do not have the time or energy or money to be aware of and address all the problems that may seriously affect us. So we can be forgiven if we would prefer to ignore the extremely complex problems of child and family welfare, especially other people’s children and families.
But just as a spot on the skin may be the harbinger of disaster if ignored, if we do not attempt to help an abused or neglected child now, that child or that family may cause all of us harm later. And that harm may be a great deal more difficult and expensive than it would cost to prevent it now.
The complexity of our child welfare problem is highlighted by the Indiana Legislature’s scattergun reaction to the criticism of the former State Director of the Department of Family and Child Services who resigned in despair. Just in this year’s session of the General Assembly fourteen bills concerning DCS matters were introduced. This is a positive sign but just as “all politics is local” we in Posey County, Indiana, just as each of Indiana’s other 91 counties, must take some responsibility for our own situation.
In each county the general needs may be similar but specific needs may call for different approaches. Any solution should include numerous institutions such as the Department of Child Services, the schools, all police agencies, the County Council and Board of Commissioners, the Prosecutor’s office, the medical and mental health agencies and the courts. Of course, the most important constituency in this integrated approach must be the public along with the news media.
As I indicated last week I have plenty to do just in the Posey Circuit Court so that’s where I’ll concentrate next week as we work together to craft a comprehensive approach to diagnosing and treating our Child In Need of Services situation in Posey County.