The Indiana Supreme Court is helping launch a full-fledged assault on government transparency, and we need to push back and speak up in order to keep our democracy from falling into darkness.
It has never been more critical for our readers, neighbors and friends to submit public comments by Aug. 10 opposing the proposed amendment to Trial Rule 4.13, which would allow the government to control and display public notices on its website regarding court summons, notices of lawsuits, estate administration and sheriff’s sales.
These notices have traditionally been published through a third party, which ensures the process of informing the public of critically important matters isn’t corrupted. Daily newspapers across our state are readily available to all citizens at the library and in waiting rooms, displaying this vital information in a prominent and reliable space.
When was the last time you visited the Indiana Supreme Court website? This trial rule change will undoubtedly reduce the ability and opportunity for Hoosiers to see these notices, effectively making the judicial process less transparent and the right for citizens’ due process unduly harmed.
Many of our readers rely on our newspaper for these notices and for their news since access to reliable internet services remains dismal in our communities. When these notices are published in the newspaper covering the area in which the legal actions are taking place, the news spreads across the county to alert people of changes or legal actions that would affect them.
As the Hoosier State Press Association argues, it is illogical to expect citizens who have no idea a legal action may have been filed that would impact them to routinely log onto the court’s website in the off chance that they stumble upon a notice concerning them. People read our newspaper every day. Meanwhile, not many people sift through hundreds of legal notices on a government-sponsored website daily.
In the spirit of transparency, it is important to note that newspapers benefit financially through the publication of legal notices as does any business that serves government clients. The amount paid to newspapers is currently being negotiated to a lower price, which covers newspaper’s printing operations and loss of valuable space in order to disseminate this often life-altering information.
The courts are supposed to champion our constitutional rights, including due process and freedom of the press, yet this move would reduce transparency and access to vital information.
The four essential elements to effective public notice include the accessibility of notice to the public, verification that notices were properly published or posted, archiving of the notices for legal and historical purposes and independent distribution to protect against corruption, according to the Hoosier State Press Association. Newspapers satisfy these elements, full stop.
There is great importance of having a robust and healthy local newspaper in every community across our state.
Newspapers act as the lifeblood of a community. We act as the voice of the people, criticise the government, fight for government transparency and accountability. The government’s current proposal would hinder our ability to do our jobs.
It is critical that we stand up against the amendments to Trial Rule 4.13. Your local paper depends on it.
Public comments must be submitted by Aug. 10, 2021. Comments should be mailed to Jennifer Bauer, Indiana Office of Court Services, 251 N. Illinois St., Suite 800 Indianapolis, IN 46204. Online comments may be submitted at www.in.gov/courts/publications/proposed-rules/july-2021/ by scrolling to the bottom of the page and clicking the button titled “Submit feedback online.”