Attorneys for Respondent Attorney for Petitioner
Board of Commissioners St. Joseph Superior Court
of St. Joseph County
George T. Patton, Jr. James A. Masters
Monique C. Winkler Nemeth Feeney & Masters, P.C.
Bose McKinney & Evans South Bend, Indiana
IN THE MATTER OF ASSIGNMENT ) OF COURTROOMS, JUDGE'S ) Supreme Court No. OFFICES, AND OTHER COURT ) 71S00-9901-MF-57 FACILITIES OF THE ST. JOSEPH ) SUPERIOR COURT ) ________________________________________________________________________
REVIEW OF A TRIAL RULE 60.5 MANDATE PROCEEDING The Honorable Allen N. Wheat, Special Judge Cause No. 71D06-9807-MI-70________________________________________________________________________
August 27, 1999Per Curiam I. Procedural background
employed to settle a rather ordinary dispute over which judge uses a particular office in
the St. Joseph County Courthouse.See footnote
In short, the Board of Commissioners of St. Joseph County (Commissioners) want to relocate the magistrate of the Circuit Court to a particular room of the County Courthouse; the presiding judge and the six other Superior Court judges working in the County Courthouse want to continue to locate a Superior Court judge in that room.
The Superior Court issued an order of mandate with regard to the use of the office, signed by all seven judges. This order triggered the procedures found in Trial Rule 60.5. We appointed the Honorable Allen N. Wheat, Judge of the Steuben Circuit Court, as special judge to hear evidence and to make findings with regard to the mandate order. A trial was held. Ultimately, the special judge entered a decree containing findings of fact and conclusions of law. The decree sustained the order of mandate.
Trial Rule 60.5 provides that the special judge's decree will be reviewed by this Court unless the responsible governmental subdivision (in this case, the Commissioners) expressly waives such review. The Commissioners declined to waive review. The Court issued an order governing the filing of the record of proceedings and briefs by the parties. Once fully briefed, the Court took the matter under advisement.
court-related office space within the County Courthouse.
The principal issue in this case, then, is how to resolve this dispute with regard to the exercise of that joint authority. This leads us to the crux of the Commissioners' second contention.
The Commissioners urge that their decision concerning office assignments is entitled to enforcement unless it is arbitrary and capricious. In support of this contention, they cite to Board of Comm'rs of Vigo County v. Stout, 136 Ind. 53, 35 N.E. 683 (1893). In a general discussion of the powers and trusts embraced by the Vigo County Board of Commissioners, the Court in Stout did state, The Commissioners may not exercise their powers arbitrarily and without regard to the trusts committed to their keeping. 136 Ind. at 58, 35 N.E. at 685. As the Commissioners also note, this Court later stated, We further held [in Stout] that control of county property is generally confided to the Board of Commissioners; however, in controlling such, the Commissioners have a duty not to act arbitrarily. Riddle, 493 N.E.2d at 462, citing Stout, 136 Ind. at 57-58, 35 N.E. at 685.
The Stout case, however, was not a mandate proceeding. Moreover, the dispositive issue in that case was whether the county commissioners could collaterally attack in the Vigo Superior Court an order of the Vigo Circuit Court relating to the operation of a courthouse elevator. 136 Ind. at 62-63, 35 N.E. at 686.
The Riddle case was a mandate proceeding involving a dispute over office space use, and the Court did refer to language in the Stout opinion regarding a duty on the part
of the county commissioners not to act arbitrarily. However, the Court in Riddle
expressly stated that the standard it was applying to resolve the dispute was whether the
order of mandate was reasonably necessary for the operation of the courts and court-
related functions and whether any other governmental interests were so adversely affected
as to require that the order be set aside. Riddle, 493 N.E.2d at 463.
Thus, notwithstanding any dicta in Stout or Riddle, a mandate proceeding is not a review of whether the position taken by the governmental entity with regard to court operations is arbitrary or capricious. Rather, in a mandate proceeding, the special judge is reviewing the order of mandate against the legal standards that must be met before such an order may be given force.
As we held in Riddle and have held elsewhere, the central issues in a mandate proceeding are whether the order of mandate is reasonably necessary for the operation of the courts and court-related functions and whether any other governmental interests are so adversely affected as to require that the order be set aside. Morgan Circuit Court v. Morgan County Council, 550 N.E.2d 1303, 1304 (Ind. 1990). When we review the mandate decree of the special judge, we do not ordinarily reevaluate the evidence and we will affirm the decree if there is substantial evidence of probative value to support the judgment. In re Mandate of Funds for the Brown Circuit Court, 507 N.E.2d 583, 584 (Ind. 1987).
The special judge entered factual findings from which he concluded that the
mandate order was reasonably necessary for the operation of the courts because of
security and efficiency concerns, and that no governmental interests were adversely
affected. The Commissioners do not specifically challenge any of the findings of the
special judge, and we therefore have no need to detail them here. Suffice it to say they
reflect that there was substantial evidence of probative value to support the judgment.
The Commissioners point to evidence demonstrating that their position with regard to court office assignments is reasonable and sound. Even assuming that to be true, it is not dispositive of the questions with which we are presented. As we stated above, the special judge in a mandate proceeding is not making a determination of whether the county legislative body has acted arbitrarily. The special judge is to determine whether the order of mandate has met the legal standards that must be reached before such an order will be given force. In this instance, as stated above, we agree with the special judge that the order meets those standards. It is therefore entitled to enforcement.
B. The meeting language of Trial Rule 60.5.
The Commissioners present a secondary argument as well. Trial Rule 60.5 states, in part, Prior to issuing the order [of mandate] the court shall meet with the mandated party to demonstrate the need for said funds. The Commissioners assert there was no meeting between them and the Superior Court once the dispute arose and thus the mandate order should be vacated.
In considering this contention, the special judge noted the exchange of letters on
the topic of courtroom assignments and concluded:
The written correspondence made imminently clear the position of the Commissioners and the Judges of the Superior Court regarding the use which the Commissioners and Superior Court desired to make of the disputed space, and why. The letter and spirit of T.R. 60.5(A) have been satisfied in this case.
The Court agrees with the special judge in this instance.
Without question, state judicial policy strongly favors settlement of disputes over litigation. State ex rel. Indiana State Bar Ass'n v. State Bd. of Tax Comm'rs, 1999 WL 446016 (Ind. June 21, 1999); Silkey v. Investors Diversified Services, Inc., 690 N.E.2d 329, 332 (Ind.Ct.App. 1997), reh'g denied. The language of Trial Rule 60.5 advances that policy by requiring the parties to meet prior to the issuance of a mandate order. In addition, as the special judge noted, the requirement of a meeting helps to ensure that the parties understand each others' positions and interests. In this instance, the parties explained their positions and interests in an effort to resolve the dispute through the exchange of correspondence. At one point a counter-offer was even made by the Commissioners but was rejected in writing by the Superior Court judges. While there may not have been a face-to-face meeting once the full nature of the dispute became known, the parties made attempts to settle the matter prior to the issuance of the mandate order and there is no question that both sides understood the position taken by the other.
Intra-county disputes between the judiciary and the county legislative authority should be and almost always are resolved without resort to mandate procedures. Having
face-to-face meetings will often facilitate the settlement process when disputes do arise.
In this case, however, the purposes of Trial Rule 60.5 have narrowly been met by virtue
of the exchange of letters that preceded the mandate order. The lack of an actual face-to-
face meeting prior to the issuance of the mandate order does not justify reversal in this
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