Judge speaks out on fairness in Marion County courts

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Marion County's only full-time Small Claims Court Judge is speaking out to 13 Investigates about fairness in the courts.

Franklin Township Judge John Kitley says the law is clear. Anyone facing a lawsuit in Marion County should get proper notification.

13 Investigates has been uncovering issues in small claims for months now and is back with more on what the law says about ordering you to court.

Constables in all nine Marion County townships deliver orders to show up to small claims court - some by hand, some by certified mail. 

Failing to show up could result in judgments, court costs, attorney fees and even money taken from paychecks. That's what happened in Franklin Township.

Now Judge John Kitley tells 13 Investigates he can't be sure 15 out-of-state defendants got fair warnings in 2011.

Kitley is asking the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission to review affidavits saying proper notice was given. The problem is there were no signatures on the certified mail receipts to prove it.

Those issues in Franklin Township first surfaced after a local attorney issued his own report criticizing judgments won by a local driving school against out-of-state defendants, who said they had no idea they were being sued.

Kitley took action after reviewing some of those cases.

"If you're an attorney suing an out-of-state defendant, you better have your ducks in a row when you tell a judge and you're an attorney, 'I have proper service'," said Kitley about the growing scrutiny of attorneys working in small claims.

Concerns over inadequate notices are not new.

A Supreme Court Task Force asked to investigate Marion County Small Claims Courts found defendants getting notices too late. Under new rules now in effect anyone sued in small claims must be notified at least 20 days before the set hearing date.

But does that go far enough?

Appeals Court Judge John Baker wants Marion County Small Claims moved under the control of the Superior Court system. That's the way it works in all of the State's other 91 counties.

"We should treat people in Marion County like we treat them in every other county," Baker said in May 2013, when 13 Investigates first reported on the issues in Marion County Small Claims Courts.

"I think the bullseye that's been placed on our back is a direct result of us being a separate distinct system from the superior courts. I welcome transparency," added Judge Kitley, who says there's no good reason not to and questions why lawmakers won't take action.

"We should become Superior Courts and the reason why I concur with that is because of the evolution of these courts. You're not dealing with non-lawyer against non-lawyer," said Kitley.

For residents who live across the state of Indiana, notices can be left on your doorstep or sent to you in the mail with no signatures required. Franklin Township sends a backup notice through the mail. Kitley says if that notice comes back as undeliverable, it raises a red flag that the court needs a better address.