Taxpayers Stuck with Huge Bills After Being Denied Access to Courthouse & Commissioner Loss in Appeals Court

 

Commissioners
Tracy Brown is the only friend of freedom loving citizens serving as a Tippecanoe  County Commissioner; l to r:  David Byers, Tracy Brown, Tom Murtaugh

After a month of waiting for the Tippecanoe County attorney to review the multiple invoices he submitted to taxpayers associated with Higher Society vs Tippecanoe County Commissioners, they were finally turned over to the private citizen who had requested them via the Freedom of Information Act.

 

Taxpayers will be none too pleased to know that they paid over $45,000 to defend wayward commissioners against a lawsuit that should have never been filed in the first place.  To be fair, Commissioner Tracy Brown was not part of the original debacle that set the wheels of justice in motion.  In fact, sources tell us that he supports open forums and free speech as protected by the U.S. Constitution, so none of the criticism applies to him.

Commissioners David Byers and Tom Murtaugh took the unconstitutional position of deciding which speech would get special treatment and which speech would be denied when they turned the Higher Society away from the courthouse steps.  Lawyers for the Society argued that the forum was open only to commissioner-approved groups. A lower court and the appeals court agreed it was blatant discrimination.  The Supreme Court has long held that if a government opens up a forum to one group it must open it to all.

One didn’t need a law degree to figure out the commissioners would lose this battle.  Unfortunately, taxpayers are left with a hefty bill.

“I doubt they would have taken this course of action if they had to use their own personal finances,” commented one taxpayer.  “I think they should reimburse taxpayers for faulty judgment.”

The errant commissioners suffered a not-so-surprising loss when the Court of Appeals unanimously ruled against them.  What was surprising, however,  was the flippant attitude expressed by Commissioners Byers and Murtaugh afterwards.  They admitted the illegal policy was meant to shut out groups they didn’t like.  Murtaugh practically bragged that it was good while it lasted and counted it as a victory that they got by with it as long as they did.

Citizens aren’t laughing, Mr. Murtaugh.  Many of us think it was abhorrent that the illegal policy was first drafted to keep Christ off the courthouse square.   Voters might be able to find a silver lining, though.  Maybe it will be worth the $40,000 to highlight the fact that we need two new commissioners at election time.  We’re looking for candidates now.

In the meantime, taxpayers can scrutinize the itemized bills and decide for themselves whether or not it was worth it.

Click on to enlarge:

 

 

Local Attorney Questioned by Police Officers After Making Public Records Requests About Phantom Courtroom; Now Pursuing Legal Action for Possible Civil Rights Violations

UPDATED:  Local attorney Kirk Freeman made stunning allegations recently on his “Kirk Freeman Law” Facebook pageFreeman.   The original post, dated June 12, 2017, provided an intriguing status about a public records request that he submitted to county officials concerning the existence of a courtroom that he had heard about.  It was allegedly located in the basement at 111 North 4th Street, across from the Tippecanoe County Courthouse.

In a blog posted dated June 12, he wrote:

“Won first skirmish.  Received answer to my APRA/FOIA inquiry into the ‘courtroom’ at 111 North 4th Street in Lafayette.  As I suspected, courtroom was a nullity.

Included as well was County’s decision to enforce ‘security’ at 111 North 4th Street pursuant to 35-47-11.1.4(13).  Thus, if you have a license to carry a handgun regardless of the kabuki dance up front, you can carry at 111 North 4th Street, Lafayette, Ind.

June 26th my request to take depositions is set for hearing.  Need to find out who made the false allegations to attempt to get me to drop my APRA/FOIA requests.  It’s nice to start off with a minor win, but ending this interference with my civil rights and my First Amendment rights is the real battle.”

According to Freeman, on May 2, 2017, he was  given a tour of the new facility by one of the public defenders who told him about a new courtroom located in the basement of the building.  At this point he was merely curious about the existence of such a courtroom so began asking questions about who created it, and what its purpose was.  He also asked to see it; however, it was locked.

Ironically, Freeman had just returned from an NRA meeting in Atlanta when he first toured the annex.   Indiana Law (35-47-11-1-4(13) allows citizens with gun permits to carry in public buildings as long as there are no court rooms, so the questions about the courtroom were logical ones for law-abiding citizens who exercise their right to carry a gun as permitted by law.

“It was intellectual curiosity at that point,” said Freeman.  “I asked questions about who created the court.”  Freeman said that after looking through a locked door it became obvious that there wasn’t a courtroom set up.  “There were boxes and furniture in the room,” he said. At this point, he became more curious and submitted a request for public information about the courtroom on or about May 15, 2017.  That’s when the trouble began.

On or about May 17, 2017, Freeman was pulled into a restroom and questioned by courthouse deputies.  Someone had accused him of carrying a gun in the courthouse and ranting about it on Facebook.  Freeman knew that was nonsense, so asked the officers who made those allegations and who ordered them to question him.  They reportedly told him they could not tell him.  Freeman believes someone may have intended to intimidate him for raising questions and asking for public information.

The timing seems suspicious to Freeman.  He said he doesn’t blame the deputies.

“They were just doing their job,” he said.  Freeman wants to know who ordered them to question him and who made the false allegations against him.

“Was it a concerted effort to obstruct my freedom of information request,” he asked.

Freeman received a letter from county officials last week, which confirmed his suspicions.  A courtroom was not operating in the building, which would affect a person’s gun-carrying status.

Freeman answered several inquiries from citizens on his Facebook page.  He explained the situation further with this answer:

“Think of a courtroom as a “poison pill” which radiates a gun ban.

The courtroom that the county attempted to foist on us is dark and unused. I filed a APRA/FOIA request for more info on the “courtroom”.

Someone got wind of this request and moved to stop me by making false allegations against me to put me in fear. Problem is that I don’t scare and I fight. Whoever did this will not get anyone with this.

Remember, if they attack you, make certain you mark them in way that when they look in the mirror and see your mark, they always remember you.”

Freeman wants answers, so he filed a motion to compel the officers to submit to a deposition in accordance with Trial Rule 27, which allows petitioners to take depositions for discovery purposes prior to filing a potential lawsuit.  A hearing on his motion is set for June 26, 2017 at 10:30 A.M. in the Tippecanoe County Circuit Court.

“I am a little stunned why they would do this to me,” he questioned.  As a Nobel Peace Prize winner once said, “If they punch me, I will punch back twice as hard.”

City of West Lafayette Receives Repeated Warnings by State Board of Accounts for Concerning Practices

Imagine being able to read your own water meter and computing your own water bill.  Does that sound far-fetched?

According to the Indiana State Board of Accounts that’s exactly the type of practice that auditors have been warning the City of West Lafayette against for at least the last two audit reporting periods.  According to audit reports, Purdue University, the largest consumer of water in the city,  has been reading their own meters and calculating their own bills for the 358 water meters at the university.   State auditors have warned city officials about the risks of engaging in this type of unusual practice, and cites it as “a deficiency in the internal control system.”

The 2013 audit report filed on November 26, 2014 noted the following:

 “a deficiency in the internal control system concerning the billing procedures for the Wastewater Utility’s major customer that we believe constitutes a material weakness…This major customer [Purdue University], which provided approximately 39 percent of the Wastewater’s revenue for 2013, reads their own water meters and calculates their own wastewater bill (based on water consumption) for each of their 358 water meters.  They calculate and present their total wastewater bill, along with their payment, to the Utility each month.  The Utility has not implemented any internal control procedures to verify that accurate meter readings are used to calculate the customer’s wastewater bill…Controls over the receipting, disbursing, recording, and accounting for the financial activities are necessary to avoid substantial risk of invalid transactions, inaccurate records and financial statements and incorrect decision making.”

A follow-up letter was submitted by the City of West Lafayette stating they would fix the problem.  Apparently, the problem was not fixed, because the City of West Lafayette continued to be cited by the SBOA for the same problem.  Another letter was issued by the City of West Lafayette on October 20, 2016 with a plan of how they will address the problem going forward.

State Board of Accounts auditors have stated in the past that they are merely a reporting agency, and that they have no enforcement powers.  The frustrations for auditors and taxpayers are that most audit reports get filed away and are rarely scrutinized by the general public.  There seems to be an accountability factor missing.

Previous audit reports were not readily available online, so who knows how long this practice has been going on.

Read excerpts from the aforementioned audit reports below.  Click on to enlarge.

West Lafayette Audit Findings 2013

West Lafayette Audit Findings 2015West Lafayette Audit Findings 2013

Is Tippecanoe County ADA Compliant? Citizens Locked Out of Children’s Court Bathroom by Tippecanoe County Prosecutors

UPDATE: The Journal & Courier reported today (June 11, 2017) that the prosecutors have moved out of the courthouse; however, according to courthouse insiders there are no plans to unlock the fourth floor restrooms.  Apparently, it’s not uncommon for courthouse patrons to become angry and “bellicose” about the controversial decision to lock the public out of the fourth floor restrooms.

Apparently, Tippecanoe County Prosecutors don’t like sharing restroom facilities with the citizen rabble.  According to courthouse insiders, the fourth floor restrooms at the courthouse have been closed to the public at the request of officials in the prosecutor’s office.courthouse-bathroom-sign-e1497115493425.jpg

The reason reportedly given by the prosecutors for the restroom discrimination was  that they do not wish to use the same facilities as criminal defendants due to safety concerns.  This argument does not seem valid to some who say prosecutors routinely use restrooms on other floors where most of the criminal trials take place for their own personal convenience.

“There should not be a caste system within the courthouse,” said Jon Held, a former Fairfield Township elected official.  “It smacks of elitism, not to mention it is outright discrimination.”

The prosecutor’s office shares the floor with Superior Court 3, also known as Children’s Court, one of the busiest courtrooms at the courthouse.  This court oversees cases involving the welfare of children, and it’s not uncommon for children, parents, social workers, and child advocates to line the halls waiting to be heard inside the busy courtroom.  A night court and an appointed magistrate have been added to help with the burdensome caseload.

Due to the nature of the court, there is sometimes a long wait; therefore, non-employees are forced to use the only working elevator, or climb the long staircase, to access restrooms located on the first and third floors of the building.  Children are routinely in court, and parents understand the importance of having a restroom nearby for emergencies.

“I think it’s a smack in the face to the many volunteers who give so much time and effort to the community,” commented one citizen, who wasn’t buying into the reasoning for the closing of the restrooms.  “If prosecutors don’t want to pee with the rest of us, maybe they should place a port-a-potty in their office suite.”

Others also suspect there is more to the policy than prosecutor safety.  Many non-employees, such as child welfare workers, child advocates, and witnesses have been let into the locked restrooms by courthouse employees in cases of emergencies, which reportedly prompted complaints to be made by prosecutor staff.

“To complain about a volunteer using the restroom is just so mean-spirited,” continued Held.  “The false pretense is insulting, and it is arrogant of them to think they are too special to use a public restroom,” continued Held.

Held, who grew up with a severely disabled sister, is concerned that the county may not be in compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act.

“To eliminate a public restroom is a burden to disabled citizens, especially in a busy facility that has a single elevator in use,” said Held.  “I think the county needs an ADA compliance check.”

Others say the sneakiness of it all is suspicious, and cited the fact that there was not a public notice or discussion before the closure of the restrooms.

Held believes it is time for citizens to take action by contacting the county commissioners as well as state and federal officials.  You can reach the Tippecanoe County Commissioners by phone or email.  Citizens are also welcome to attend Commissioner meetings that are held the first and third Mondays each month at 10:00 a.m. in the County Office building.  Public comments are welcome.

Federal Court Rules Against Discrimination by Tippecanoe County Officials

 

The Tippecanoe County Commissioners were dealt an embarrassing blow yesterday in the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals when they rejected the discriminatory policy used by the county since 1999 to deny citizens equal access for events and displays.

What has been missing from public discussion is the history of the unconstitutional policy.  It wasn’t drafted to keep groups like the Higher Society out of the public square.  It was designed to keep Jesus Christ out of the public square.  Rather than accommodate religious citizens from displaying a nativity on the courthouse square during the Christmas season, commissioners chose to close the forum to non-government sponsored groups.

The ruling, handed down yesterday, includes the policy in question:

“Only displays and events sponsored and prepared by a department or office of county government will be allowed in the windows of the Tippecanoe County Office Building or on the grounds of the Tippecanoe County Courthouse.  Said displays and events shall be scheduled through the Board of Commissioners of the County of Tippecanoe.”

The problem is that once the forum was closed, commissioners took it upon themselves to allow groups that they deemed to be acceptable to use the public square while rejecting ones they did not agree with.  This type of political arrogance should be rejected, in court and at the ballot box.   It doesn’t take a legal scholar to understand that this is not the American way.  The Commissioners have been violating the rights of Tippecanoe County citizens since 1999, and until recently, they were satisfied to do just that.  Not one of them stood up against the policy when they had a chance to do it.   Not one stood up for the constitution but were satisfied with violating it.

Many citizens, including commissioners, may not agree with the pro-drug message that the High Society has to offer; however, violating the constitutional rights of even one citizen is more repugnant than any of the messages they have rejected on the steps of the courthouse.

Here is the ruling ( Scroll Down & Click on to enlarge):

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