Legal Issues and Local Government and Courts and Government & Economic Development and Government and Law

Judge: Case not made for airport justice center site

March 12, 2014

The judge who has authority over Marion County court facilities is casting doubt on the city’s preferred site for a criminal justice complex at Indianapolis International Airport.

“My position is at this point I think the case has not been made that an airport site is reasonably accessible,” Marion Circuit Judge Louis Rosenberg said in an interview.

A 35-acre site along West Washington Street east of Raceway Road emerged as the preferred site among several the city evaluated in a market survey completed in November.  

Representatives of the Ballard administration have said that no site has been officially selected, and Marion Superior judges are scheduled to hear an update on the complex Thursday. The city has selected a short list of three potential developers, and officials have said a location is expected to be announced by April 1.

Rosenberg commended Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard and other officials who in December announced plans to build a new complex that would incorporate the Marion County jail, Superior Court criminal division, and prosecutor, public defender, probation and other related functions. A new jail and criminal courts facility is needed, Rosenberg said. He said his sole concern is in regard to accessibility.

Last November, Rosenberg sent a letter to the city’s project coordinator thanking him and Ballard for moving ahead on a long-conceptualized facility, noting, “As a result of your hard work, I am confident that we are closer than ever.”

But the letter, dated Nov. 12, also expressed a need for greater transparency in the site-selection process and encouraged the views of judges and stakeholders be considered: “the proper role of the Judiciary and the Circuit Court in particular needs to be recognized.”

Indiana statute vests the Marion Circuit judge with authority over court location, among other things. “With reference to accessibility, that’s what we need to be right on top of,” Rosenberg said. A 2013 Indiana Supreme Court ruling on the location of Center Township Small Claims Court “makes it abundantly clear,” he said.

Rosenberg noted the opinion rejecting a trustee’s bid to relocate Center Township Small Claims Court from the City-County Building to the Carson Center on Fall Creek Parkway. The Supreme Court ruled in the judge’s favor and kept the court where it was, holding that relocating it would raise a fundamental question of access to justice, and “providing such access is a constitutionally mandated function of Indiana Courts.”

Rosenberg cited that language in the Nov. 12 letter that also put the city on notice: “Where the ‘Judicial Center’ is located is thus an issue on which the Judiciary must satisfy itself that the proposed site would promote rather than impair access to justice.”

He said an airport site would present access challenges for witnesses, poor and minority populations, as well as frequently monitored court users such as the approximately 2,500 people in community corrections. He estimated some transit users could face round-trip commutes of two hours or more if courts moved to the proposed airport site.

“The bottom line is (an airport site) is going to create some hardships,” he said. “I think we have to be more empathetic and we have to think about the people who are going to be using the facility.”
 

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