Mayor – Morning Guys – I’m good how are you.
Jed – Talk to us.
Mayor – I was calling about City Court. I didn’t know if you guys had questions or not.
Jed – No we do. What’s going on. Why are you closing it?
Mayor – Efficiency. We’ve been talking about this for a long time and I’ve had the idea over 10 years ago but at the time it was like… “do we really want to go toe to toe with Judge Harkin a guy that has been judge since long before I was Mayor”. He was judge for five terms maybe in his sixth term when he passed away. I think he was in his 6th term when he passed away and, it would be a lot harder to go toe to toe with a 6th term incumbent judge than it would be going toe to toe with a judge that never practiced law before and doesn’t even live in our city. I mean the judge protects the court.
Mayor – Judge Randolph is an icon in East Chicago. He’s an icon in Northwest Indiana and maybe that’s why Mayor Pastrick wasn’t successful. I mean, with all due respect to Judge Jorgensen nobody even knows her in Hammond and it’s a lot easier to go toe to toe with a judge that has no roots in the city than it is to go toe to toe with a Judge Harkin.
Jed – How much money do you save by doing this?
Mayor – $1.3 to $1.5 million a year.
Jed – so the question begs
Mayor – it’s a luxury we’ve had for a long time in Hammond that we can’t afford anymore.
Jed – ok we’ve had a number of callers that are asking if you are losing that kind of money on the court, why you didn’t close it before – so you’ve just answered that question.
Mayor – That’s a fair question. It is a fair question and I could be criticized for not taking this action 10 years ago when we first looked at these numbers. I could be criticized for that and that’s fine but it was my decision, do I really want to take this to the Hammond City Council and have to force the City Councilmembers to choose between Mayor McDermott’s plan to close the Court or Judge Harkin’s court and, quite frankly, I didn’t want to do that. I didn’t know if I would be successful and if I move forward I want to be successful.
Jed – Let me ask you this. Governor Pence putting Amy Jorgensen in this position without legal experience – do you consider that a political decision?
Mayor – Yea I do
Jed – Explain
Mayor – I think it was aimed at Hammond and at me in particular. Quite frankly, I think it was a payback for Ms. Jorgensen’s husband’s loyal service to Governor Pence. I think it was a total payback towards them. We went through a phase in Hammond where we were going to contest this appointment on a couple different issues and we moved past that. Amy Jorgensen, if the Hammond Council approves this ordinance, will be the last City Court Judge in Hammond and there won’t be another one because the Court will merge in with the County. We’re talking about an inconvenience for Hammond residents that are charged with a crime. We have a courthouse on Russell Street. It’s a county courthouse. Judge Villalpando runs it and quite frankly 75% of the cases are probably going to go to Russell Street and the cases that won’t go to Russell Street will be criminal misdemeanors and if you get a criminal misdemeanor like a DUI yea you might have to go to Crown Point.
Jed – Alright, I was under the impression I did some a poking around on this and that was applied randomly where you were going to go, either to the county or to Hammond.
Mayor – Criminal misdemeanor that’s true and you have a 75% likely landing in Crown Point, let’s be honest. Judge Cantrell, Judge Schiralli, Judge Moss and Judge Villalpando are the Judges who handle the county misdemeanors and if you have a misdemeanor you have a 75% chance of landing in Crown Point.
Jed – Ok, so even from both sides looking at Governor Pence’s appointment of Amy Jorgensen, it is fairly obvious that there are political things in there and that she, or the family, has been very loyal to the party so she got the job. But can you understand how people can look from the outside and say to you “hey man all these years Harkin’s there and now you have a Republican Judge in there so you’re just going to stomp your feet and close the court.” I mean it has that appearance.
Mayor – I totally get it and that’s why it’s statewide news right now. I do want to assure you that we have been talking about this for a long time, I have multiple people who have been a part of that conversation. We just made a strategic decision, we didn’t know if we would be successful by going up against Judge Harkin. I don’t know, we could have a 5 to 4 vote out of the Council, maybe I lose 5 to 4? We didn’t know and if I move forward and I’m going to go to war with Judge Harkin, I want to win. That’s how we do things. If we’re going to move forward I want to be successful and in this case I didn’t know if we were going to be successful. Most residents of Hammond are outraged that she was appointed our judge and that’s happened and we are not going to contest that. But the fact is, now I’m evaluating do we want to keep spending $1.5 million every year to run a city court that I can easily merge in to the county.
Jed – Verlie, how do you feel about this?
Verlie – when you say most people in Hammond were outraged about her appointment are those same people outraged that you’re going to close the court or are they in favor of that?
Mayor – Verlie, being in the Mayor’s office is a barometer of if people are upset or people are angry. I called up after the first day this story went public and I asked my assistant, Eva, “are you guys getting a lot of phone calls?”, and Eva informed me that they had 6 calls supporting my decision to close the court. That was after the first day. I haven’t checked in recently and I’ll be honest with you I have friends like the caller George, I like George. I see George at all the council meetings and I know he’s not happy with me on this decision and that makes me sad, it really does. But, I have to represent what I think are Hammond’s best interests and in 2020 when these tax caps go away in Lake and St. Joseph Counties, we’re going to go to 1-2-3 instead of 1.5, 2.5 and 3.5 and that’s the real deal that’s coming in 2020. We have to start preparing for that. That’s going to be another 2 or 3 million out of our budget that we’re going to lose to the tax caps. So this is a good fiscal move and I want to point out that Ms. Jorgensen is going to be the judge during the entire term. We’re hoping to have all the cases done by 2018 but, quite frankly, it could easily take into 2019. We are not challenging her. We’re not asking her to stepdown, she will be the judge for the next three years.
Jed – Mayor I got a text here. I got a whole bunch of texts coming in right now. But one of them says this is all BS. If a democrat was appointed, this wouldn’t be happening. What do you say to that comment?
Mayor – Judge Kray was in there. We were having these meetings when Judge Kray was in there because we knew that Judge Kray didn’t plan to run for re-election and I planned to do this with Judge Kray in there. By the way, Judge Kray was doing a fine job. But when Judge Kray was in there, we were meeting on this discussing the very same thing. I’ve had multiple conversations with multiple people over the years including Clerk Golec, including Judge Pera, Judge Villalpando, Bernie Carter, I’ve talked to multiple people about this over the years. I know a lot of people publicly are surprised. People that are in “the know” weren’t surprised by this development.
Verlie – When is the city council going to discuss this?
Mayor – First and second reading will be next week and then we only have one meeting in December so we won’t have this issue resolved until early January at the soonest.
Verlie – Well, I can tell you this, Mayor Pastrick tried to close the court it wasn’t about Judge Randolph, it was about the City Court in East Chicago and I can assure you that if the Churches galvanized like they did when this happened in East Chicago and the community organizations do the same, the City Council meeting will be packed with residents who are opposed to this. Will you pull back if you see the majority of Hammond people are opposed to this?
Mayor – I haven’t seen that so far and obviously I have to make that decision.
Verlie – Pastrick was surprised too when they showed up at the City Council meeting.
Mayor – Well, keep advertising it Verlie, maybe you’ll get them fired up. But what I’m saying is in Hammond it’s a different story because we would shut down the court at 5925 Calumet Avenue and move it right over to Russell Street, which is literally a mile away, and all the costs that we bear in the City of Hammond, the $1.5 million that the Hammond taxpayers have to cover all that loss, goes over to the County and the county has to figure out how to deal with it. Quite frankly, that’s their job. Counties are supposed to run the courts. City Courts are luxuries. You know cities aren’t supposed to do city jails either. We do that in Hammond and that’s something I’ve talked about also. Why do we have a city jail? We’re not making money with the city jail. Why don’t we give the city jail to the county? Why don’t we send our prisoners to the county? We would save money doing that also.
Verlie – That’s what Gary does.
Mayor – You’re right.
Jed – I have a couple more texts I want to hit here and they’re coming in — How are you going to save money when you just said you are going to move people to other parts of the city that work there?
Mayor – We would pick them up because when jobs open up we would have two years to pick them up. So let’s say you work in probation right now and I have a job that opens up in the controller’s office or in public works that you would qualify for. The jobs open because maybe someone retired, quit or was fired. So, I would take someone from the judge’s office, in this case probation, and I would move them over to public works or I would move them to the controller’s office where there is an open job that has not been filled. If I did that over two years, we would have a lot of vacancies in the clerk’s office and the courts office, so when we shut down we would minimize our layoffs. We’re not creating new positions, we would be filling positions that are vacant.
Jed – I have a few more texts here. I’m proud of our Mayor he’s not afraid to prove his point. Close it. How can you respect a judge who has never practiced law?
Mayor – There’s people who feel that way. I just want people to know that we have been covering this $1.5 million lost all through Judge Harkin’s term. We’ve been covering it through Judge Kray’s term and now Judge Jorgensen’s taking over. I’m meeting with her tomorrow by the way and quite frankly she is going to be the judge all the way through this term. We are not challenging that, we are not challenging her lack of legal expertise. She’s appointed and I respect that.