Judge Jim Payne steps down as DCS director

Judge James Payne

Indiana has a new leader at the helm of the agency that protects our children.

The former director of the Department of Child Services, Judge James Payne, resigned after criticism over his role in a case involving his family.

In accepting James Payne's resignation, Governor Mitch Daniels said "attacks on (Payne's) record have ranged from innocently ignorant to despicably political and self-interested."

The news that Payne had resigned was a simple message, but one that caused a major interruption during a press conference at the Indiana Statehouse Monday afternoon. The abrupt resignation came just as ranking Democrats called on him to step aside.

Democrats Tim Lanane, Vanessa Summers, and Gail Reicken want the Indiana Inspector General to investigate reports that Payne allegedly tried to influence the outcome of a DCS case and custody battle involving his own grandchildren.

"You hate to see anyone resign a position, but I think given everything that is pending at this time, it is the appropriate and right thing to do," said Lanane (D-Anderson), moments after learning of the resignation.

"We have not seen effective leadership under Director Payne," said Rep. Reicken (D-Evansville).

Calls for Payne's resignation began after the Indianapolis Star reported Payne's estranged daughter-in-law left his four grandchildren, all under the age of 13, alone in May of last year as she traveled out of state. An unknown caller reported it to the DCS hotline, opening a "child in need of services" investigation.

Despite his involvement, Judge Payne did not step aside as the director of the agency. According to the report, he fought to keep the children and even criticized his own agency.

"At some point and time, it seems to me it should have occurred that there should have been, at least on his part, a question as to how much he could become involved in this case," explained Lanane.

In his resignation letter, Payne took issue with the report, saying, "To disclose that information without regard to its impact on those children is tragic beyond belief. Therefore, in fairness to my family and co-workers at DCS, I resign, effective today."

Just over an hour later, Eyewitness News found Judge Payne's wife outside of their Indianapolis home. We wanted to ask why he didn't temporarily step aside until his grandchildren's case was settled. He declined further comment, through his wife.

At the Statehouse, Republicans say Payne's resignation should end talk of investigations by the Inspector General and Ethics Commission.

"I would just caution us in the midst of this issue not to really erase any of the fine accomplishments or changes that have been accomplished," said Rep. Cindy Noe (R-Indianapolis). "Judge Payne and his family are at a very, very tragic and pivotal point."

"This has been a distraction to us, a brief distraction, but we're ready to get on with the business of this committee," added Senator Travis Holdman (R-Markle).

Governor Daniels appointed the agency's Chief of Staff, John Ryan, as interim director. Ryan received a warm round of applause from both sides of the aisle at the Statehouse.

Earlier, Ryan revealed he had tried to get child protection agencies from Michigan, Kentucky, Ohio and Illinois to take the case involving Payne's grandchildren, but none of the out-of-state agencies would agree to take it.

Payne was appointed director after serving as the Marion County juvenile judge in Indianapolis.

Gov. Mitch Daniels statement

"I have accepted the resignation of Judge Jim Payne as director of the Department of Child Services. I respect his view that his family be spared further harsh criticism, and that a difficult personal dispute, not of his own making, could be misused by those with political or special interest agendas to falsely disparage the excellent work he and his DCS co-workers have done over the last eight years.

"The leading national authorities are unanimous in praising Indiana's improvements in child protection, often labeled 'worst to first,' during Jim Payne's tenure. In the most recent measurements year, the number of fatalities among children under DCS oversight fell to four, an all-time low.

Attacks on his record have ranged from innocently ignorant to despicably political and self-interested. His resignation does not alter the plain truth that thousands of Indiana children are better off, and many are alive only because of the passionate and devoted leadership of this fine public servant."

Governor Daniels has asked DCS Chief of Staff John Ryan to serve as director of the department. He has agreed to assume the responsibilities, effective immediately."

Case background

The agency sent Eyewitness News an outline of how it responded to a "child in need of services" complaint involving the grandchildren of Judge James Payne last year. The issue first surfaced in reports by our partners at The Indianapolis Star, which is reporting calls for Judge Payne's resignation.

DCS says the ordeal started in May 2011, when a call came into the agency's hotline from law enforcement. The unidentified caller said children were left alone while their mother had taken a trip out of state. DCS says neither police nor the case worker who responded knew the children were Judge Payne's grandchildren.

After authorities contacted the mother, who is Payne's estranged daughter-in-law, DCS says the mother asked that the children be placed with Payne and his wife Terrie.

Placing children with stable relatives is a common practice with the agency. In this case, the Payne's grandchildren had lived with them for a two-year period some time prior to the incident.

DCS says once it became clear that the case would require on-going court intervention, the agency asked child-protective agencies from Michigan, Kentucky, Ohio and Illinois to take the case. None of them would. That's when Illinois officials recommended two retired, licensed Illinois caseworkers for the job.

As part of the child services process, the Paynes confirm they were involved in counseling meetings involving the children. DCS refused to provide any other specifics and would not provide anyone to speak with us on camera.

Chief of Staff John Ryan said, "We believe that all children, whether they are your children or Judge Payne's children, are entitled to confidentiality under federal and state law" and "to assert that Judge Payne influenced this situation with his professional position is false."