Those few of you who actually read this column on a regular basis will recall my completely justified response to Peg’s destruction of my weekend by sentencing me to help her haul, open and spread 120 fifty-pound bags of brown mulch at JPeg Ranch. You might say, “Well, Peg worked too”. But you see, Peg lives for such opportunities so to her it is not work. On the other hand, as for me, a ball game viewed from the couch is a more appropriate way to spend a Saturday.
I was quite astonished and even a little hurt when several readers of last week’s article weighed in with suggestions on what I should do with the mulch. It surprised me that everyone who responded so uncharitably sided with Peg. After all, she was the one responsible for the mulch being there in the first place. I will relate a few of the unkind, and even inappropriate, suggestions.
Neighbors, who need not be named as we only have two, came over during the mulching marathon last weekend and instead of offering sweat offered advice. “Why don’t you just put all the bags out while Peg is planting the garden and the new flowers?” I did not respond what I was thinking but chose to just pretend I heard nothing.
Then at Sara’s Harmony Way Coffee Shop on Sunday morning Barb Mc Connell who had been the initial instigator of the mulch acquisition from the New Harmony Garden Club asked Peg about the progress of the mulching program which gave Peg an opportunity in front of the entire round table crowd to point out my poor attitude.
Then I received an email from the Posey County Jail referencing the previous article and making a rather rude suggestion of what I could do with the mulch. How do those people access the Internet anyway?
But, as is often the case with my big sister who read the article from the safety of her home in Missouri, Janie took Peg’s side again. Janie, who was always allowed by our parents to lord it over her three brothers, first mentioned that Peg was just trying to beautify JPeg Ranch for our grandson’s upcoming wedding. Then she sarcastically suggested if I was too lazy to properly spread the mulch before the wedding I could just cover the piles with white satin.
Ah, spring! The hummingbirds have returned to JPeg Ranch and the falling locust tree blossoms can make me forget for a while how the thorns attack me each time I must deal with a fallen branch. The air is filled with perfume and a symphony of avian love songs.
Of course, it is not called spring for nothing and the Equinox strikes deeply into Peg’s cortex causing her to spring into a frenzy of projects around the Ranch. Unfortunately for me Peg’s projects become my sentence.
Then there is Peg’s deeply held belief we should contribute to virtually every cause that advances the beauty of Posey County, especially New Harmony. The confluence of her obsessions of yard improvement and public service converged when our friend Barb McConnell, who is a hardworking member of the New Harmony Garden Club, mentioned to Peg that the club was selling bags of mulch as a fundraiser.
Now, New Harmony is our home and we care about it. My affection for our small village is best expressed by patronizing Sara and David Brown’s Coffee and Wine Shop, David and Vicki Campbell and Sara and David Brown’s microbrewery, Kenny and Nancy Weinzapfel’s Yellow Tavern and the Owen family’s Red Geranium Restaurant. My position is I spend money on a good meal and/or a good glass of red wine, then I have well met my duty to improve our community. With Peg that’s not quite enough. Therefore, Peg bought 120 (you did not misread that figure) of brown mulch from Barb and the Garden Club.
When Peg gave me the good news my first thought was, “Okay, you bought the mulch, you must want to lift, move, open and spread every last 50 pound bag of it.” Gee, how could I have ever had such a fleeting dream? Oh, no, Peg demanded that I have the pleasure of spending an entire weekend frolicking in the yard with enough mulch to recreate the Old Plank Road between New Harmony and Mt. Vernon.
We put mulch on every possible tree, shrub, flower bed and mole hole within sight. The left over was used to get ready for our grandson’s wedding to be held at the Ranch this month. I bit my tongue when the thought arose, “Does the happy couple really want to stand on a 3 foot high pile of mulch to take their vows?”
Much as a judge must decide the cases in front of her or him, on Tuesday, May 08, 2018 Posey County voters must decide whom to nominate to run in November’s general election for Circuit Court Judge. When a judge is deciding a case the first thing is to analyze the evidence. Voters can do the same thing before they cast their votes. Whether the office in question is President of the United States or Circuit Court Judge the process should be the same. Such things as relevant experience and prior good or bad behavior should be considered. But especially with judges there is no substitute for good character and mature judgment.
Judges decide the issues most dear to us. Such matters as who goes to jail, how children are reared and how property is divided are just a few of the countless critical issues a judge must determine. Voters must determine who can best untangle these often thorny cases.
If you have followed this column, you know I have often written about the process of judging and what makes a good judge. However, after more than 37 years of my own experience as judge where I have observed and dealt with countless judges I am convinced that the most vital qualification for judging is good character. Of course, voters should consider a judicial candidate’s honesty, background, experience, past successes or failures and good or bad behavior, but the most important factor in evaluating a potential judge is character. Without good character nothing else matters. With good character other deficiencies can be overcome.
While politics should never play a role in a judge’s decisions, Indiana requires in most of our 92 counties that judges be nominated by a political party. I think this is not the best system of judicial selection, but such matters are within the Legislative Branch’s authority. And, since I believe in democracy and I think democracy works best with a clear separation of the Legislative, Executive and Judicial branches, I must defer decisions on the method of selecting judges to the Legislature.
So that means on Tuesday, May 08, 2018 Posey County must select judicial candidates for the general election in November. The Posey County Republican Party has already determined that Attorney Craig Goedde will be the Republican candidate. Congratulations to him.
As for the Democrat Party, which has honored me with its nomination for judge seven times, a judicial nominee for this election is still needed. With the criteria referred to earlier in mind I respectfully suggest Attorney Trent Van Haaften would be an excellent choice. I have known Mr. Van Haaften since he and our son played Pony League baseball together on a team his father and I helped coach. They also played football together for Mt. Vernon High School from which they graduated in 1983. Mr. Van Haaften was president of their Senior Class. I can speak about him from long-time personal knowledge. Of course, each voter should decide for themselves.
Both Mr. Van Haaften and Mr. Goedde are hardworking and knowledgeable attorneys who have handled many cases before me and I know them both personally. Each has mature judgment and sound character. Either would work well with the unopposed and excellent candidates for Prosecuting Attorney, Travis Clowers, and Sheriff, Tom Latham. I would have confidence Posey County’s legal system would continue to well serve all of us if either is elected judge.
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.