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:

 

 

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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