The Herald Bulletin

October 1, 2013

New judge sought in Anderson-Lapel lawsuit

Town defends strip annexation attempt

By Traci L. Moyer The Herald Bulletin
The Herald Bulletin

---- — ANDERSON — The town of Lapel plans to deny the City of Anderson’s allegations of an unlawful annexation as both sides search for a new judge to preside over the case.

Thomas Beeman, the town’s attorney, said Monday he was filing a response to Anderson’s complaint.

The City of Anderson filed a lawsuit to challenge a “super-voluntary” strip annexation Lapel Town Council passed in May. The annexation came at the request of a group of landowners who did not want to be annexed into the city.

According to the lawsuit, Lapel’s annexation violates Indiana’s Home Rule Act because it does not comply with contiguity requirements in state annexation laws, making it invalid and unlawful.

Lapel was granted an extension of time to respond to the city’s allegations, but that extension expired Sept. 30. Beeman said the response was the next step in the court proceedings, until a new judge can be appointed.

In a conference call last week, Beeman said, Madison Circuit Court 6 Judge Dennis Carroll told attorneys from both sides that he plans to remove himself from the case.

Carroll said his decision to be removed from the court proceedings is based on his knowledge of “all the players,” and the fact that he recently employed the former Anderson city attorney.

“There is no entry yet because I told them (the attorneys) informally, so they could talk,” Carroll said. “I am giving them time to see if they can agree on someone (another judge).”

If both sides cannot agree on a judge to hear the case, Carroll said, an official process will be initiated to find a replacement.

Ashley Hopper, city attorney for Anderson, said that process is defined in the Madison County trial rules and, according to the rules, the judge — by default — would come from Grant County.

“We are working to hopefully have one picked within a week or so,” Beeman said.

The perimeter of the area annexed by Lapel is 25,719 feet, of which 311 feet is contiguous with Lapel’s town boundaries. State law requires annexations to be at least one-eighth contiguous with existing boundaries.

Gary Shuck, town board president for Lapel, said the city has no authority to tell Lapel what it can or cannot annex. He said the lawsuit will be dismissed because the city has no legal standing in the matter.

“Everyone has an opinion,” Shuck said. “We have responded to the filed suit, and I, like everyone else, am waiting to see what happens.”

Hopper said the lawsuit is an important one for the city because it could determine Anderson’s future ability to annex additional frontage along Interstate 69.

“This area is important because of the economic growth potential that it represents for the city of Anderson and for Madison County, as a whole,” she said.

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What's next According to the Madison County trial rules, if judges in the county are disqualified due to a conflict of interest and both sides of the lawsuit cannot agree or find a replacement judge, the appointment of a judge will be made at random by the Grant County Clerk from eligible judges in Grant County Circuit Court or Grant County Superior Court Divisions 1, 2 or 3.