INDIANAPOLIS – Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Brent Dickson made a rare plea Thursday for legislators to settle a contentious battle over fines levied for boycotting.
Dickson and his four colleagues heard 40 minutes of arguments in the case before asking both sides to put their heads together and compromise.
Courts are not a political institution, he said, noting the House Republicans and Democrats could set a national standard for cooperation by resolving the case privately.
The encouragement didnt immediately yield results, with Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma appearing to dismiss the idea in a prepared statement.
I look forward to the Supreme Court confirming the limitation of judicial authority over the legislative branch, and to getting the activities of the 2013 session underway, he said.
The case centers on fines issued by Bosma to Democratic lawmakers who in 2011 and 2012 refused to come to the House chamber, which resulted in a lack of quorum to do business.
The Democrats arent contesting the ability of Bosma to levy the fines, but believe it was unlawful for State Auditor Tim Berry to unilaterally withhold the fines from the legislators expense pay. The amount in question is more than $100,000.
Mark GiaQuinta, who is representing dozens of House Democrats in the case, said he would discuss Dicksons comment with his clients and contact the Attorney Generals Office, who is defending the case on behalf of Bosma and Berry.
I didnt see it coming, but I think it was a very appropriate thing for the chief justice to say, GiaQuinta said.
Thomas Fisher, who represented the state, said, you certainly want your elected officials to work together and courts always have an interest in getting parties to come together to resolve their issues amicably so I thought it was a fine comment to make.
Fisher argued Thursday that the fines are an internal legislative matter and courts have no jurisdiction over them.
This is not the purview of the court, he said repeatedly.
But several justices seemed bothered that there would be no limitation on legislative actions, such as seizing property or freezing joint accounts of legislators.
The question is how far do you push it? said Justice Robert Rucker, noting he is concerned about the slippery slope approach to the law.
Justice Loretta Rush also asked Fisher about the anti-bolting statute passed by the General Assembly after the walkouts that calls for stiff daily fines via a lawsuit filed in a Marion County court and issued by a judge.
Fisher surprisingly said he believes that law is unconstitutional because it involves courts in legislative matters – even though the legislature passed the law.
I think the fact that the legislature recognizes a pathway through the courts in the anti-bolting statute is further proof that there is some role for the courts, GiaQuinta said.
He argued Bosma and Berry should follow state law that other employers must – going to court to receive a garnishment order.
Indiana House Democratic Leader Scott Pelath from Michigan City said, were always open to discussing what is best for the institution not just for today, but for 20 years in the future or 100 years in the future.
The structure of government and limitations of its power must endure the political winds and transcend the passions of the moment.