Update 2:43 p.m.:
The American Civil Liberties Union’s Indiana Chapter is taking the Bureau of Motor Vehicles to court over the BMV commissioner’s role in denying specialty license plates to a gay youth support group.
The Bureau of Motor Vehicles revoked the Indiana Youth Group’s specialty license plates in March of 2012 because the organization improperly gave away some of its plates, a violation of its contract with the state agency.
IYG filed an appeal and an administrative law judge overturned the BMV’s decision. BMV Commissioner Scott Waddell then stepped in, halting the judge’s ruling and sending the case back to the judge for further clarification.
ACLU-Indiana legal director Ken Falk says his organization is now filing a lawsuit on behalf of IYG, asking the federal court to keep Waddell out of the case.
“The commissioner issued the decision in 2012 revoking the license plate and then here we are in 2013, the commissioner is sitting as the judge,” he says. “And if there’s one clear principle of due process it’s that any decision maker has to be impartial and by definition you are not impartial if you made the original decision.”
IYG Executive Director Mary Byrne says she just wants the whole process to be over:
“It is getting to be very vindictive at this point,” she says. “I just feel like they’re out to get us no matter what.”
A BMV spokesman says the agency does not comment on pending litigation.
A bureau of motor vehicles administrative judge ruled the bureau improperly suspended the Indiana Youth Group plates, saying the group that provides support to gay and lesbian young people had not improperly sold or auctioned some low-numbered plates.
BMV Spokesman Josh Gillespie says Commissioner Scott Waddell wants clarification of the judge’s definition of the words “sell” or “auction” among other legal issues, and that could mean a delay in the return of those plates.
“With respect to whether IYG was selling or auctioning a low-number plate, by what the definition of ‘sell’ and ‘auction’ is a determination that IYG was neither selling nor auctioning low-number plates,” Gillespie says.
Gillespie also says it is important for the BMV to have that clarity since two other specialty plate cases involving 4-H Foundation and the Greenways Foundation have been suspended and are under review.
“Not saying that it will but it could potentially impact these other plates. There is not direct equation, but we want to make sure that we are finding out everything possible within this particular non-final order,” Gillespie says.
The ruling gave the BMV 18 days to ask the judge to reconsider and 30 days to reinstate the specialty plates for sale.
Gillespie says it is his understanding that this will reset the clock on the case, meaning the 30 day window will start when the judge issues the clarified ruling.
Waddell has also said that he has the final say over the plates, regardless of the administrative judge rules. He suspended the plate last year after getting complaints from 20 Republican state senators.
Network Indiana contributed to this report.