New Haven tables city court elimination ordinance
NEW HAVEN : New Haven City Council members on Tuesday night tabled a proposed ordinance to eliminate its city court, saying getting rid of it was something they really didn’t want to do.
But council members said they had to consider the measure because of restrictions being placed on the court in the heat of a dispute between Allen County Prosecutor Karen Richards and the court’s long-time judge, Geoff Robison.
The restrictions make the court “no longer...economically viable,” according to the proposed ordinance.
“All we could do with the court are ordinance violations, which doesn’t generate a lot of cash flow and not enough to cover costs,” said Stephen Harants, the council’s attorney.
In September, Robison was charged with judicial misconduct by the Indiana Commission on Judicial Qualifications for abusing his authority.
Allegations are that Robison disobeyed orders in 2015 from Richards to stop processing state infractions and allowing juveniles to resolve charges through an unapproved deferral program.
The case is pending with the Indiana Supreme Court. Robison, who is not a lawyer, contends Richards overstepped her authority and is not following the law. He contends police were not effectively notified of the change and he was carrying out duties he had been elected to perform.
He and his attorney, J. Michael Loomis, made that case in person Tuesday night.
They also pointed out that New Haven would stand to lose more than $1 million in uncollected fines and costs if the court is dissolved. Robison said he has not had any indication county officials had any interest in following or pursuing the cases.
New Haven would lose even more by having to pay additional overtime if police officers are required to go into Fort Wayne and wait for cases to be heard, Police Chief Henry McKinnon said.
He said he did not have a specific figure, but added having a city court means cases generally take about 90 minutes to 2 hours.
Because state law allows a court abolition vote only every four years, the measure would have to be passed this year or New Haven would have to wait until 2022 or possibly 2023, Harants said.
“So we’re under the gun if we want to abolish the court,” he said.
But New Haven Mayor Terry McDonald said abolition “is not what we want to do.” He called the court “an asset” for New Haven and the county.
He stressed no one is questioning the character or performance of Robison, a former police officer and chief, the mayor said he has known for years.
Council members expressed that New Haven needs time to look at alternatives for staffing the court, the indirect cost of abolishing it and the development of new revenue streams, such as handling civil cases.
They also wondered if an out-of-court resolution with the prosecutor could be negotiated.
Tabling the measure means that if it is to be passed by the end of the year, a meeting would have to take place Dec. 26. Robison said he was willing to “do anything the city wants me to do. I’ve worked as a team member in New Haven for many years.”
“I can walk away with my head held high,” he said.