The Indiana Supreme Court opened a new front in the war to preserve the concept of using newspapers to distribute public notices.
Last week, the Indiana Supreme Court posted on its website a proposed change to Trial Rule 4.13 that would allow for the posting of public notices to its website as an alternative to publication in a local newspaper.
It’s HSPA’s understanding that there will be no charge attached to the posting of these notices, which would include sheriff’s sales, estate administration, summons/notice of lawsuit/ and change of name notices, on the website.
The Hoosier State Press Association urges newspapers to let readers know about this Supreme Court proposal. Steve Key, HSPA executive director and general counsel, said, “Most Hoosiers are unlikely to randomly visit the Supreme Court website and stumble upon a notice impacting them, other family members or friends, particularly since this type of notice is necessary when a party can’t locate the other side in the case.”
Submit comments, concerns on the proposed public notice policy change here. Deadline: 1 p.m. Aug. 10.
HSPA also hopes publishers and readers submit their concerns with this policy change proposed by the Supreme Court.
The deadline for submission of comments is 1 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 10. The link to be able to submit comments is through the following link: https://www.in.gov/courts/publications/proposed-rules/july-2021/.
Written comments also may be mailed to:
Indiana Office of Court Services
251 N. Illinois St., Suite 800 Indianapolis, IN 46204
The proposed changes to the policy can be found through the following link: https://www.in.gov/courts/files/rules-proposed-2021-jul-trial.pdf.
Key said court-required notices are valuable tools of our democracy because they provide due process to Americans who will be impacted by the government action and help make the judicial process more transparent.
“Effectively moving the notices from newspapers to a state website will reduce the opportunities for such notices to be seen by Hoosiers,” he said. “The Indiana Supreme Court should be looking at ways to expand the reach of public notices, not constrict that reach.
Cost of publication has been the only factor mentioned as a rationale for this proposal. Prior to the release of this proposal, the Hoosier State Press Association already had committed to proposing a modernization of the state’s Legal Advertising and Publication of Legal Notices statute (I.C. 5-3-1) to the state legislature. That proposal will include revision of the current pricing for notices of sheriff’s sale (mortgage foreclosure), the opening of administration of an estate, a petition to change a name, and summons or notice of lawsuit that will reduce the present cost.
Data collected this far raises a question as to whether cost is a valid concern for effective justice. HSPA information collected from 60 newspapers shows the average cost for printing public notices for estate administration to be $101, for summons to be $186, for change of name to be $126.
The cost of public notice when plaintiffs or interested parties can’t be identified, is a small price for due process, when one takes into account the hourly rate for an attorney generally ranges from $100 to $300 an hour. The filing fees and notice by a sheriff can generally range from $160 to $270.
HSPA also questions the need for tax dollars to be spent creating a special website for court-related public notices, when HSPA already has a website that aggregates public notices (www.indianapublicnotices.com).
HSPA also has committed to restricting the costs associated with giving public notice for plaintiffs who are indigent and has attempted to get language passed on that issue in the last two legislative sessions, working with organizations that provide free legal service to the disadvantaged.
There also is no need to fracture the public’s expectation to find news relevant to its community, including public notices, in their local newspapers. It’s illogical to expect citizens who have no idea a legal action may have been filed that would impact them to routinely log onto the court’s website on the off-chance they stumble upon a notice, Key said. Public dissemination of notices in local newspapers increases the chances an impacted Hoosier or his/her family, friends, coworkers, or acquaintances will see the notice to allow him/her to respond.
Key said local newspapers, through the Hoosier State Press Association, want to work with the Indiana Supreme Court to improve the public notice process by utilizing templates to aid in the proper terminology for pro se litigants to publish notices and require newspapers to upload publish/posted notices to the state’s MyCase docketing program so that attorneys are informed when notices have properly been given or help an attorney flag when an error occurs that needs to be rectified to prevent legal delays or lack of due process.
HSPA acknowledges that newspapers benefit financially through the publication of public notices as does any business that serves government clients and a move from newspaper publication to government website posting would reduce much-needed revenue as our industry recovers from the pandemic. Thirteen Indiana newspapers closed their doors during the last 16 months.
It would be ironic if the Indiana Supreme Court inadvertently pushed additional newspapers into insolvency because the two institutions have a symbiotic relationship. The courts derive their power through public support of the judicial process. When the process or a judge is attacked, it’s the news media that informs Hoosiers of this attack on the integrity of the judiciary. It’s the local newspaper that covers court cases within the county and reinforces the importance of the rule of law in a democracy. Conversely, it’s the judicial process that helps preserve the First Amendment and the press’s right to gather news, protecting newspapers from government interference.
The Hoosier State Press Association will urge the Indiana Supreme Court to change this proposal from an either newspaper publication or court website posting choice to a newspaper distributed and court website posted public notice process that preserves the four essential elements to effective notice: Accessibility of notices for the public; Verification that notices were properly published/posted; Archiving of the notices for legal and historical purposes; and Independent distribution system to ensure the system isn’t corrupted.