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Recent editorials published in Indiana newspapers

February 12, 2019

The Munster Times. February 5, 2019

NWI justice system soft on abusers of women

It’s a black eye on an entire justice system that should turn all of our stomachs.

A litany of high-profile cases in recent weeks and months show just how badly our Region’s justice system can minimize crimes against women:

A suspect facing trial in connection with a brutal sexual assault was allowed to post bond and then broke free from authorities by cutting off an electronic monitoring bracelet.

A scant $2,500 bond set a low bar of freedom for a 41-year-old man accused of fondling a 14-year-old girl.

Dozens of untested rape kits were tossed on police evidence shelves, essentially discarding some victims’ claims of the most heinous sex crimes imaginable.

A former public official, twice convicted of beating women in separate domestic violence cases, walked free and allegedly assaulted another woman last week.

We’ve seen woeful examples of authorities and society minimizing crimes against women throughout our country.

A new public spotlight on that good-old-boy culture of victim shaming helped launch the #MeToo movement in 2017.

Look no further than Northwest Indiana’s justice system for more glaring examples of deplorable trends.

The latest example came Tuesday when the Porter County courts set bond for jail inmate Joshua Johnson, 41, of Highland.

Johnson is charged with felony counts of sexual misconduct with a minor, child solicitation and sexual battery for an incident that occurred at a children’s slumber party.

A 14-year-old girl said she was sleeping on a basement couch at her friend’s Washington Township residence when she awoke to Johnson fondling her and trying to kiss her.

The girl rolled over and feigned going back to sleep, hoping to make it stop, police said. But the abuse reportedly progressed, including Johnson allegedly proposing to perform a sex act with the child.

The frightened child texted her father, desperately seeking help, police said. Her father called police, and an alleged predator was taken into custody.

It’s a text that no child should ever have to send.

It’s a message that no loving father should ever have to receive.

Now the culprit charged with orchestrating the horror can easily buy his freedom from jail with a $2,500 cash bond, pending trial.

The horrid examples of a system that seems to shrug off crimes against women didn’t begin or end there.

Last week, we all learned former Lake County Councilman Jamal Washington, now a candidate for Gary City Council, was charged with five felonies for assaulting his girlfriend, Gary City Councilman LaVetta Sparks-Wade, in the Glen Park home they shared.

Those felony charges followed an alleged 16-hour period in which Washington is accused of beating Sparks-Wade and holding her captive.

The recent allegations came just weeks after Washington was convicted of misdemeanor battery in his second case of domestic violence in as many years.

In 2016, Washington pleaded guilty to battering his wife. Late last year, he was convicted of battering his cousin in a separate domestic case.

He served no real jail time in either conviction, and he was free to become embroiled in allegations of beating another woman, Sparks-Wade, last week.

In an unrelated case last month, we learned Elias Costello, 19, of East Chicago, was allowed to post bond and was released from jail pending trial in connection with an alleged July 18 home invasion and gang rape in Hammond.

Costello is accused of conspiring with his girlfriend, Alexis M. Lietz, 20, and two of his friends to break into Lietz’s family’s home in Hammond.

According to court records, Nathaniel J. Asbury, 21, and Isiah Barboza, 16, raped Lietz’s 19-year-old relative at gunpoint during the burglary.

Costello is accused of holding the victim down and groping her during the assault.

Today, he is running free after posting bond and cutting away an electronic monitoring bracelet that was supposed to track his movements, police said.

In yet another embarrassment, many Times readers will remember a rash of untested rape kits — evidence collected by police departments following sexual assault claims — that were allowed to stack up in police evidence lockers in the Region and throughout the state.

In Lake County, a newly formed special victims unit in the prosecutor’s office is doing an admirable job of trying to sift through and bring some of these cases to justice.

But it should never have gotten to the point in which a special victims unit was needed.

What is it going to take for our justice system to take crimes against women seriously?

It’s up to all of us to remind our police, judges, prosecutors and others just how seriously we take it.

Our wives, girlfriends, sisters, daughters and mothers deserve so much better.

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The (Fort Wayne) Journal Gazette. February 8, 2019

Federal failure

The battle to curb short-term, high-interest “payday” loans in Indiana took on new urgency this week.

Though efforts to draw lawmakers’ attention to a lending system that preys on struggling Hoosier families have repeatedly failed in past sessions, consumer advocates had hope that pending federal regulations initiated during the Obama administration would at least mitigate some of the damage. The federal rules, which had been scheduled to take effect last year, would among other things have required payday lenders in states such as Indiana to at least determine whether borrowers had the means to repay their loans without falling even further behind.

But in the Trump administration, the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has taken a very different turn.

The bureau first delayed implementation of the rule for a year. Wednesday, Director Kathy Kraninger said the bureau wants to kill the means-test requirement and once again delay putting the rest of the rule into effect.

With no help on the horizon from Washington, D.C., the state’s coalition of veterans’ advocates, religious groups and consumer and social-service organizations needs to fight even harder to persuade legislators to end predatory lending.

For several years, payday-loan opponents have mainly been playing defense, beating back attempts to expand the system that now allows two-week loans at the equivalent of 391 percent annual interest.

The argument for such outlandish rates is that the loans help families cope with sudden unexpected expenses. But too often, such loans only drive families deeper into debt, as they take out subsequent loans to pay off their original one.

“Payday borrowers are more likely to experience delinquencies on other bills,” (involuntary) “bank account closures, delayed medical care, and bankruptcy,” Erin Macey of the Indiana Institute for Working Families, said in a release Thursday, “and they often turn to the very sources they could have used to avoid payday loan debt only after digging a much deeper hole.”

Last month, Senate Bill 104, which would cap short-term loans at the equivalent of 36 percent annual interest, was the subject of testimony in the Senate Insurance and Financial Institutions Committee - the first time an anti-payday-loan bill has ever been heard in committee, according to Macey.

Whether the bill goes any further this year may be up to committee chairman Sen. Eric Bassler, R-Washington, who must decide whether to call SB 104 for a vote before the Feb. 21 deadline for bills being reported out of committee. Washington, D.C.‘s, failure to take action on predatory lending makes Indianapolis’ need to do so even more urgent.

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South Bend Tribune. February 8, 2019

Public notices belong in newspapers

House Bill 1212, which eliminates the requirement for sheriff’s sales to be placed in newspapers, ignores one obvious truth.

Public notices belong where the public will see them.

Despite this, the Indiana House voted last week to send HB 1212 to the Senate.

Relegating public notices to government websites means that only those with internet access would be able to see them. And how many with access would know where to find the notices?

Three million Indiana residents read a printed newspaper during an average week, according to the Hoosier State Press Association. The HSPA reports that in a 2017 survey, 63 percent of Hoosiers responding said they prefer public notices be published in the newspaper instead of on government websites.

Philip Lieberman of Lieberman Technologies in Evansville, which manages the sheriff’s sale auctions in 16 counties, testified for the bill last month. He said that posting the notices on the sheriff’s website would make them more dynamic, since they would be on the internet.

Steve Key, executive director and general counsel for the HSPA, which opposes the bill, pointed out that notices are already on the internet, both on newspaper websites and the HSPA’s indianapublicnotices.com.

Rep. Jeff Ellington, R-Bloomington, who voted against the bill, noted the lack of broadband service in rural Indiana, which would limit the ability to see the public notices.

The sponsor of the bill, Rep. Wendy McNamara, R-Evansville, has said that she wants to eliminate newspaper publication of public notices altogether, calling it a “subsidy” for newspapers.

But consider that taxpayers would be footing the bill for the manpower to set up the process to post notices, verify and archive the postings on the sheriff’s website.

Rather than saving money, HB 1212 would exact a high price in the loss of accountability and transparency. The Senate should do the right thing and reject the bill.

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