Thoughts on jury trials, Purdue’s social stance

Posted on Nov. 12, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.

Recent editorials from Indiana newspapers:

In an era where the nation seems to be governed by emotion and ideology and emotion, it’s good to look at the Indiana judiciary.

Statistics about court operations in fiscal 2012 — July 1, 2011, through June 30, 2012 — were released last week, providing a way to measure how the state’s courts are performing.

Here are some of the highlights:

There were 307,612 cases statewide including an individual not represented by an attorney.

There were 33,876 mortgage foreclosures filed.

235 murder cases were filed.

The Supreme Court was asked to review 1,012 cases.

11,325 Child in Need of Services cases were filed.

11,564 trial court cases involved the use of an interpreter.

5,900 cases were referred to alternative dispute resolution.

Cities, towns, townships, counties and the state spent $386 million to operate the courts.

Filing fees, court costs, user fees and fines generated $205 million in revenue.

The data prompted Chief Justice Brent Dickson, a Hobart native, to note the rarity of cases decided by a jury verdict.

There were 1.6 million Indiana court cases filed last year, but only 1,338 were decided by a jury.

“Jury trials are where the skills of lawyers are honed, developed and carried on,” Dickson said.

That’s a serious concern. Jury trials are expensive, and plea agreements save time and money, but jury trials are the hallmark of the American judicial system. One of the founding principles of this nation is the right to a trial by a jury of the accused’s peers, something many countries don’t allow.

Dickson’s observation is worth further pondering in the legal community.

Meanwhile, we must point out this esoteric discussion is facilitated because Indiana not only gathers data on court cases each year but also analyzes the data so the efficiency of individual judges and the system can be evaluated effectively.

That’s how a government should be run. Let facts be facts, and base decisions on those facts.

— The Times (Munster)

Michael McRobbie took a bold step last week (Oct. 28) when the Indiana University president declared the campus would back the efforts of Freedom Indiana, a coalition of businesses and others fighting a proposed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. ...

We’ve maintained since the amendment was first proposed and approved by the General Assembly in 2011 that the effort to carve the state’s same-sex marriage ban into the Indiana Constitution is a bad call. So, we stand behind McRobbie’s characterization of it: “(House Joint Resolution 6) sends a powerfully negative message of Indiana as a place to live and work that is not welcoming to people of all backgrounds and beliefs.”

But should Purdue University follow suit?

Purdue President Mitch Daniels last week (Oct. 30) said he didn’t plan to act on his own, as McRobbie did. And while he’s taken some criticism for that, Daniels’ decision to take a more measured approach and weigh the opinions of faculty, student and alumni groups is a smart move.

Now that IU has put Purdue and other universities in the state on the clock, the official line in West Lafayette is that a statement on the amendment would be rare territory.

“Over the years,” Julie Griffith, vice president of public affairs, said last week, “Purdue has traditionally declined to comment on social issues that have been contended in the public arena.”

Maybe so. But Purdue has stepped in on some issues.

The university wrote amicus briefs, siding with the University of Texas in a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court case revolving around the use of race as a factor in college admissions. And during a 2010 rally on campus, Purdue administrators stood with supporters of the DREAM Act, which would allow young, undocumented students to qualify for in-state tuition as well as a conditional path to citizenship. ...

Beyond any “powerfully negative message” and image question for the state, the amendment could challenge the benefits Purdue offers for domestic partners. The first half of the amendment essentially mimics Indiana’s same-sex marriage law; the second half goes further, negating any “legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals.”

So Purdue has a stake that rises at least somewhere close the level of admissions policies based on race or immigration status. ...

If things are done correctly, though, the General Assembly will realize the overreach of this constitutional amendment on its own and not force Purdue’s hand — or drag the state into an unnecessary fight.

— Journal & Courier (Lafayette)

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