The Indiana Supreme Court heard arguments Thursday over the collection of fines stemming from an Indiana House Democrat walkout in 2011.
House Republicans handed down fines totaling about $3,000 per legislator during the 2011 session as Democrats camped out in Illinois in protest of several bills. The fines were collected by withholding the legislators’ per diem.
Several lawmakers, led by now-retired Indianapolis Democrat Bill Crawford, challenged that collection method in a Marion County court. Marion County Judge David Dreyer sided with the Democrats, ordering the state to pay back the fines. Attorney Mark GiaQuinta, who represents the Democrats, says the wages should have been garnished through a normal judicial process.
“It allows the court to play some role in affording my clients, who are citizen legislators, some modicum of due process, which this procedure doesn’t allow,” he says.
GiaQuinta says, otherwise, the legislative majority has an unlimited right to seize wages. Solicitor General Thomas Fisher, arguing for the state, says opening the door for the courts to get involved in internal legislative matters is dangerous.
“This kind of spectacle of judicial rummaging around in the backrooms and the deal making and the conversations of legislators is exactly what separation of powers suggests should not happen,” he says.
Chief Justice Brent Dickson suggested both sides compromise and settle the matter out of court before the justices issue a ruling. He says courts are not a political institution. GiaQuinta says he plans on making a phone call.
“You better believe that our side will follow Chief Justice Dickson’s instruction and try to determine whether or not there’s a way in which to settle this matter,” he says.
Fisher says it us not necessarily his role to work out a deal.
“Bear in mind there are many elected officials involved in this, and I’m quite confident that they can address these things,” he says. “When it’s appropriate for them to do it, I’m sure they will come together and talk as necessary.”
Neither GiaQuinta or Fisher would talk about the specifics of what a settlement might include.