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2 disputed issues get needed review


Governmental checks and balances don’t get the credit they deserve. News developments Monday are good reminders of why they serve us well.

•Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller said he will appeal a ruling dismissing felony charges against a former state utility regulator accused of failing to disclose secret meetings with power plant executives.

•A Lake County judge ruled Indiana’s right-to-work law violates the state constitution by blocking just compensation for services. Zoeller’s office immediately announced it would appeal the ruling, sending the case to the Indiana Supreme Court.

Two complex issues; two welcome reviews. Regardless of how either is settled, Hoosiers will benefit from a thorough, deliberate airing of the facts surrounding each. Instead of the fevered pace of the legislative process or the often-overheated rhetoric of political debate, experienced jurists will examine facts, study precedents and issue rulings based on those facts.

In the case of former utility regulator David Lott Hardy, something just didn’t feel right about the Aug. 12 ruling by a Marion County court. Although Judge William Nelson scolded Hardy, a Fort Wayne attorney, for a “definite betrayal of trust,” he ruled that the former IURC chairman’s actions were not criminal.

Zoeller, to his credit, also was bothered by the ruling. He took issue with the judge’s conclusion that a law passed by the General Assembly last year invalidated the four felony charges leveled at Hardy.

“If the legislature intended to make a 2012 change in the law retroactive as the trial court ruled, it would have written that into the statute, and it did not,” Zoeller said in a statement.

Indeed, it’s difficult to believe lawmakers overlooked that detail. It was on the attorney general’s recommendation that the law was clarified to require charges of official misconduct be based only on criminal acts.

“Beyond the issue of law involved, this case is one that addresses important claims of public misconduct,” Zoeller said this week. “In order for the public to have trust in our system of laws, there must be accountability, which makes this appeal all the more important.”

In the case of Indiana’s controversial right- to-work law, legal experts quickly dismissed the likelihood that the ruling will stand. Lake County Judge John Sedia cited a constitutional provision to rule the law wrongly forces unions to represent workers who don’t pay union dues. But the provision historically has applied only to individuals, according to Joel Schumm, a law professor at the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law in Indianapolis.

And the ruling came in union-friendly Lake County, albeit from a judge appointed by Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels.

The bottom line is that the decision gives opponents – with good reason to believe their voices were silenced in the right-to-work debate – a hearing in the state’s highest court. Even if the law is upheld, the system will have worked in granting a full review.

Checks and balances are good for democracy, good for Hoosiers.