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Fewer cases to the high court, and that's OK

Wednesday, November 13, 2013 - 12:01 am

Now, if Legislature could just start passing fewer laws.

A lot of people are trying to decide whether it’s good news or bad news that a declining number of cases are being made to the Indiana Supreme Court and that the court is deciding fewer cases from among them. The court’s annual report released this month shows it issued just 78 rulings on the 868 cases that made it to the high court. That’s down from 90 opinions issued on 963 cases the year before and 122 opinions on 979 cases a decade ago.

A pessimistic view of the decline would hold that either there is a clog somewhere in the system slowing it down or that the justices and perhaps others in the system farther down the line are just getting too comfortable with a slow and undemanding pace. Holding that view would lead one to suspect there are a lot of Hoosiers walking around with legal confusions ready to trip them up.

Chief Justice Brent Dickson doesn’t know why there is a decline but tends to be more optimistic. “I don’t know that there’s any particular reason other than to say more people are satisfied with their trial court decisions.”

We’re inclined to agree. If Indiana courts improve every year (and there’s no reason to suspect otherwise), rulings at the trial court level should be better and better. If a ruling is seen to be obviously correct, then even the losing lawyer isn’t likely to appeal.

Of course, the trend could also mean that the General Assembly is getting better and passing clear, unambiguous laws that don’t overstep authority or intrude on Hoosier’s rights. We aren’t that optimistic, however.

The Legislature therefore could make its best contribution by passing fewer laws and even getting rid of a few already on the books. The best way to unclutter the courts is to unclutter the laws they have to deal with.

Wrong place to look for the money?

The City Council has already approved $499,500 from the Legacy account for a study to develop a riverfront development plan. Now Councilman Geoff Paddock, D-5th District, wants to tap it for $200,000 to help fund an environmental impact study of plans to bring passenger rail service back to Fort Wayne.

The riverfront study is the more easily justified use of Legacy funds. It will create a specific plan for something long desired in Fort Wayne and something that can easily be accomplished. The return of passenger service is more of a long shot involving multiple jurisdictions in three states. We’re not saying rail service shouldn’t be pursued. But we wonder if there aren’t better places to seek the money from.