A Courtside Seat

Judge Kim Hall occasionally writes a brief column for publication.                                              The columns, called “A Courtside Seat”, focus on various aspects of the                                          court system — locally and across the nation.



Imagine this.  You go into work on Monday morning and anyone may walk in, sit down, and observe everything you do and say.  Also, journalists may come in, take notes on every word spoken, and then report it to thousands of people – who just happen to be your bosses.

If that isn’t enough, nearly everything you say, every day, is recorded.  If ever they want, your seniors can get a transcript of every word you said – as well as any decision made – and determine if you made an error.  You could call that an “open” workplace, or you could call that the Starke Circuit Court.

I like an open government. And, I think that most Americans agree.  An open government is more accountable and more likely to be trustworthy than one which operates in secret.

Our courtroom, which has plenty of activity nearly every weekday, is open to the public. There are exceptions for certain types of cases, but the doors are open over 90% of the time and the schedule is posted on the computer monitor outside the courtroom doors.  Inside the doors you may find a criminal jury trial, a divorce, or even a complex and interesting case with attorneys from all over the state.

O.K., so you don’t want to walk up to the third floor of the courthouse just to see what is on the schedule.  What if you could get that information in your recliner, with your laptop and index finger?   No problem.  In 2008, for the first time, we obtained the ability to post the court schedule on the internet.  You can be just about anywhere in the world and see what is happening on any given day in the Starke Circuit Court.  Go to the Starke County website, www.co.starke.in.us,  and look up the Judge’s or Magistrate’s calendars, 24/7/ 365.

If that isn’t enough openness for you, all documents associated with over 90 % of the cases are public records and, as such, are open for you to read, copy, and take home.  Just walk into the Clerk’s office and request to look at a court file, and your request will be granted, unless the case falls into one of the confidential categories as defined by the law.

What else can we do to make our court more open?  Perhaps someday there will be live streaming to your computer or iPhone.  Already, Indiana Appellate Court hearings are often accessible via live streaming.  It’s not that you would necessarily want to do it, but giving you the power to choose whether to access it is what is important.

There are hundreds of governments in the world, and you will find the most open government here in America.  Arguably, the most open of the three branches of our government is our judiciary – our courts.  And, the most open and accessible courts to the public are our state trial courts, like the Starke Circuit Court.

Everyone’s invited.  If you want to witness the law resolving important real life matters, daily, on the third floor of your courthouse, just walk right in and sit right down.

                                                         SOMETHING TO PONDER

              Government ought to be all outside and no inside.         President Woodrow Wilson




How often do you get the chance to become personally involved in the life of a child whom you have never met, and to directly play an important role in turning that child’s life around?  I have good news for you.  There are children right here in Starke County who are asking that you become involved in their lives and be their voice in the courtroom.

All you have to do is step out of your comfort zone.

Let me tell you about some of the types of cases that we have in our court.  Four year old Amanda and her little brother Billy were found living in an unfinished house in rural Starke County, with cold air and snow blowing in, and the only contents in the refrigerator were two cans of beer. Twelve year old Brittany, whose dad abandoned her when she was a toddler, has been molested for two years by her mother’s live-in boyfriend.

Infant Emma was born with fetal alcohol syndrome, which resulted in a low birth weight and an expectant life of delayed development.  Christopher, nine years old, whose parents went to the bar every Saturday afternoon, was required to supervise his three younger siblings.  He was frequently beaten when his intoxicated parents would return several hours later and, in their judgment, he failed to meet his responsibilities.

In the Starke Circuit Court the real cases are often more disturbing.   Many children, in emergencies, have been removed from their parents by the police or the Indiana Department of Child Services, and placed with a relative or in a foster home.  Hearings are then held in court, within 72 hours, for the Judge to decide if the child should continue in the emergency placement.  Later, the Judge will decide if the child is a Child in Need of Services.

We do not bring these children into the courtroom to testify.  If an adult is uncomfortable in the courtroom, what do you think the experience is like for a seven year old child?

Who will speak for these children?  Who will be an advocate for the child in the courtroom, tell the Judge what the child’s life has been like, and suggest how to make the child’s life better?

Fortunately, we now have nearly 40 dedicated volunteers who have been trained in how to investigate these matters, speak directly with the child, and make suggestions to the Judge in the courtroom.  Legally, they are referred to as Court Appointed Special Advocates, (CASA), but simply put, they are Starke County people who have an unselfish desire to help children who live in our community, and have been abused and/or neglected.

It’s one thing to write a check to an organization that will provide food, medical care, etc. to a child in a far-away country.  It’s an entirely different experience to hold a trembling baby in your arms, to look a six year old girl in the eyes and wipe her tears, or to put your arm around a physically abused nine year old boy, comforting him and assuring him that for the first time in his life, he is safe.

You can read this article, move on to the classified ads to see if there is some piece of exercise equipment for sale, then put the paper in the magazine rack and get ready for dinner.  Or, you could decide that now is the time to help a child, one-on-one, right here in your community.

That means that you will have to take the first step.

If you love children and would like to acquire a new and rewarding purpose for your life, just call 772-7200, e-mail me, or even come see me at the courthouse to find out how you can get started.

A new class of volunteers will begin the 30 hours training program soon.   Why don’t you join them?

Amanda and Billy are hoping that you do.

                                                         SOMETHING TO PONDER

       There is hope for the helpless, rest for the weary, and love for the broken heart.  Third Day

Have a heart that never hardens, and a touch that never hurts.  Charles Dickens


These columns have been prepared for general informational purposes only.  The information in these columns is not legal advice.  No reference is made to any pending case in the Starke Circuit Court, directly or indirectly, and the content should not be considered as any indication of how the Court might rule in any legal matter.