Recent editorials published in Indiana newspapers

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The Times, Munster. Nov. 11, 2013.

A judicial use of government statistics

In an era where the nation seems to be governed by emotion and ideology and emotion, it’s good to look at the Indiana judiciary.

Statistics about court operations in fiscal 2012 — July 1, 2011, through June 30, 2012 — were released last week, providing a way to measure how the state’s courts are performing.

Here are some of the highlights:

There were 307,612 cases statewide including an individual not represented by an attorney.

There were 33,876 mortgage foreclosures filed.

235 murder cases were filed.

The Supreme Court was asked to review 1,012 cases.

11,325 Child in Need of Services cases were filed.

11,564 trial court cases involved the use of an interpreter.

5,900 cases were referred to alternative dispute resolution.

Cities, towns, townships, counties and the state spent $386 million to operate the courts.

Filing fees, court costs, user fees and fines generated $205 million in revenue.

The data prompted Chief Justice Brent Dickson, a Hobart native, to note the rarity of cases decided by a jury verdict.

There were 1.6 million Indiana court cases filed last year, but only 1,338 were decided by a jury.

“Jury trials are where the skills of lawyers are honed, developed and carried on,” Dickson said.

That’s a serious concern. Jury trials are expensive, and plea agreements save time and money, but jury trials are the hallmark of the American judicial system. One of the founding principles of this nation is the right to a trial by a jury of the accused’s peers, something many countries don’t allow.

Dickson’s observation is worth further pondering in the legal community.

Meanwhile, we must point out this esoteric discussion is facilitated because Indiana not only gathers data on court cases each year but also analyzes the data so the efficiency of individual judges and the system can be evaluated effectively.

That’s how a government should be run. Let facts be facts, and base decisions on those facts.

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Tribune-Star, Terre Haute. Nov. 9, 2013.

All vets deserve thanks; post-9/11 vets deserve jobs

Veterans Day began as Armistice Day, remembering those who served in the U.S. military during World War I, which ended on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918, “a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace,” according to a congressional declaration. Nearly four decades later, Congress expanded the observance into a national holiday honoring all American military service men and women.

The nation pays tribute in various ways, from parades in small-town streets, educational programs in schools, ceremonies by veterans organizations, special discounts for vets at restaurants and shops, personal ads in local newspapers with pictures of relatives in uniform, and thank-yous posted on social media websites. Those sincere gestures are worthy and needed. … Still, there’s another form of gratitude that can offer a long-term impact.

The U.S. must continue and intensify efforts to get post-9/11 veterans into the workforce.

Post-9/11 veterans remain unemployed at higher levels than vets of other eras, and the general population. The jobless rate for post-9/11 veterans stood at 10.1 percent in November, well above the overall national unemployment rate of 7.2 percent. The rate for all other veterans, by comparison, was 6.3 percent, according to the online publication The Blaze.

There are numerous contributing factors, but a couple are significant and repairable. One involves, of all things, a stigma.

Last week, Starbucks admirably joined several other U.S. employers unveiling a hiring program specifically targeted at veterans. The javashop giant announced its intention to hire at least 10,000 veterans and spouses of active-duty service members over the coming five years. Earlier this year, Walmart instituted a similar objective, aiming to employ 100,000 veterans through 2018. JPMorgan Chase, Boeing and Microsoft have also begun programs to increase hiring of veterans.

Sadly, those wonderful ventures stand in contrast to some other industries. In an NPR report last week, a staff attorney for Starbucks who helped craft the company’s veterans hiring program, recalled his own difficulties in finding work in the civilian labor force. Rob Porcarelli worked as a prosecutor in the U.S. Navy in the 1990s, but hit a roadblock early in his job hunt. “In one interview downtown, the head of the department said, ‘You know, Rob, I think you’re going to find more of the intellectual type in the law firm environment.’ And I remember thinking, ‘Maybe he’s joking. Did he just call me and all my friends stupid?’”

The Starbucks plan bucks such disgraceful stereotyping.

Post-9/11 vets also deserve to have their training for specific jobs in the military validated by smooth, rapid certification for equivalent civilian jobs once they’re back home. Many states, including Indiana, have worked to speed up the credentialing process for veterans with military-time skills in medicine, communications, welding, mechanics, truck-driving and heavy equipment operating, according to The Blaze’s story.

As the unemployment numbers show, progress needs to continue. The skills, work ethic and leadership qualities of the returning service members should be a guiding force for employers as they hire. As operations conclude in Afghanistan, more than 1 million U.S. military vets will become civilians, looking for work, in the next few years. A job opportunity — the chance to put their hard-earned qualities to use — offers one important way to say, “Thank you.”

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The Journal Gazette. Nov. 8, 2013.

Hunter’s end-of-life decision a reminder to us all

Tim Bowers gave his family a final gift this week – peace of mind that the decision to disconnect the machines keeping him alive was his own.

In turn, his family’s decision to share details of the Decatur man’s last hours represents an even greater gift to the rest of us – a reminder of the importance of communicating end-of-life wishes and considering all ethical and cultural implications in such situations.

Bowers, 32, apparently fell 16 feet as he climbed a tree stand while hunting last Saturday in Adams County. When he was found, Bowers’ vertebrae were crushed to the point that he would likely spend the rest of his life in a rehabilitation hospital, connected to a ventilator. His brain was not injured, however, so the family asked doctors to take Bowers out of a drug-induced coma to learn what he wanted them to do. He said he had lived a great life and it was time to go.

Abbey Bowers said her husband understood that he would never be able to hug or hold the baby she is expecting and that he did not want to spend his life in a wheelchair – a point he had made even before his accident.

Tim Bowers’ clear counsel might have eased his family’s minds even as their hearts were breaking, but it also points to the complexity of such cases, according to Abraham Schwab, a medical ethicist and associate professor of philosophy at IPFW. It also underscores the growing emphasis on honoring a patient’s wishes.

“Under the traditional doctrine of medical paternalism, this would have been much harder for the medical professional to do,” he said of the decision to end life support. “But patients have been given more authority to direct the course of their lives.”

Schwab said the role of patient autonomy comes with limits, however. Life-or-death decisions can only be made if the patient is competent to decide.

In Bowers’ case, he had expressed his wishes even before his injury, but such cases aren’t always so clear. Schwab said spinal cord injuries can result in depression, for example.

“It might color the decision,” he said. “Our predictions about how we will feel in the future can be wrong. It’s important to determine if this is a snap judgment or a persistent decision – ‘this is clearly what I want.’ ”

Schwab, speaking from a medical and research ethics conference in Boston, said the tragic case emphasizes the care that must be taken to ensure a patient is competent to make the decision.

For the Bowers family, it is surely the realization of a worst nightmare; for the rest of us it is a reminder that the best time to consider tough questions is well before we face them.

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The Indianapolis Star. Nov. 5, 2013.

Strong leadership finally emerged in David Bisard case

The infuriating case of David Bisard, a police officer who shattered the public’s trust by getting drunk and then slamming his patrol car into a group of motorcyclists, has tormented his victims and their families, this city and its police department for more than three years.

So no small measure of relief was felt Tuesday when a jury in Fort Wayne found the suspended Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department officer guilty on all nine felony counts, including reckless homicide and causing a death while driving drunk.

Still, Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry got it right when he said, minutes after the verdict was announced, that “there’s no reason to celebrate today.” An overwhelming amount of evidence against Bisard made it clear beyond any reasonable doubt that he was drunk and driving recklessly when he killed cyclist Eric Wells and severely injured Mary Mills and Kurt Weekly in August 2010. But, as Curry noted, the verdict doesn’t negate the continued suffering of Wells’ family, or that of Mills and Weekly and their families.

The verdict, however, does serve as an endpoint (even though an appeal is likely) to a tragedy that exposed deep problems at the time within IMPD’s ranks. Not only did police wait for hours after the accident to have Bisard’s blood tested for alcohol, but concerns also were raised that proper procedures weren’t followed during the testing and in preserving the chain of evidence. High-ranking IMPD officers were disciplined for how they handled the case, and pointed questions were asked in the community about whether Bisard had been given favorable treatment by his fellow officers.

In the wake of those embarrassments, then Public Safety Director Frank Straub and IMPD launched an aggressive effort to raise standards of conduct in the department and to strengthen protocols for investigating accidents involving officers. Current Public Safety Director Troy Riggs has continued the push for a higher degree of professionalism in IMPD, and the results in recent years have been encouraging.

The guilty verdict also is vindication for Curry, who as a newly elected prosecutor chose in 2011 to reverse a decision by his predecessor, Carl Brizzi, not to pursue drunken driving charges against Bisard. Brizzi had argued that the blood was not drawn properly and that the case likely would be tossed from court. Curry stood firm in his opinion that drunken driving charges were warranted and winnable.

It took far too long for strong leadership to emerge in this case, but once it did, both in IMPD and in the prosecutor’s office, justice was finally well served. David Bisard is guilty. A tragic story that shook and embarrassed this city is coming to an end.

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