New rules for attorney fees adopted in Marion County

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New rules to protect your pocketbook will soon take effect across Marion County. The changes are the result of a 13 Investigates report uncovering high attorney fees in Small Claims Courts.

13 Investigates on the newly adopted rules..and what attorneys can and cannot charge for.

Runners at a Saturday morning competition represent every township in Marion County.
Each runner must run by the same rules. It's a simple concept.

A concept that some say is ignored when it comes to Marion County Small Claims Courts.
In May, 13 Investigates found collections attorneys operating by their own set of rules charging people two, three, some even 4-times what they actually owe in attorney fees.
In Decatur Township, Attorney Derek Johnson was collecting a $500-dollar fee, even for judgments under a hundred bucks.

"You're charging them more than they actually owe," said Investigator Sandra Chapman questioning Derek Johnson about his high fees. Johnson refused to comment.

"I don't see how anybody could see your series without thinking, "Maybe we need to take a second look at attorneys fees. And a lot of other things as well," said Judge Louis Rosenberg in May in reaction to 13 Investigates findings.

Now for the first time, Rosenberg, the presiding Circuit Court Judge with oversight over Small Claims is taking steps to protect everyday folks from exhorbitant fees.

"Definitely. Definitely there needs to be protections," said Julie Sheffield of Washington Township. Sheffield believes high attorney fees could dissuade people from fighting for their rights.

In the just released amendment, attorney fees must be based on the actual time spent on a case and charges separated out for work done by a paralegal as opposed to an attorney.
Attorneys can no longer charge each individual the full fee for costs associated with more than one case, the time must be apportioned
Fees must also be apportioned when it comes to travel expenses for cases heard on the same day.

"It was not supposed to turn into major ordeals, major legal costs. That's for another venue," said Mark Smith, a resident of Perry Township. Smith said he has heard the complaints about Marion County Small Claims Courts.

"To hear that there's some reason being applied to what I consider out of control attorney costs in this day and age, that sounds like good news for the average person," he told 13 Investigates.

Good news that quickly spread along a Saturday morning running course in Marion County.

"It sounds like this new proposal is going to make sense in trying to minimize the cost and the barriers and obstructions to getting some sort of fair resolution," added Jeff Schmahl of Washington Township.

The new amendment takes effect December first. The rules are being sent to both the Indianapolis Bar Association and the Marion County Bar Association.