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 ISSCH Alumni Assoc. Files for Preliminary Injunction in Rush Co.

February 11 2009 - A petition was filed in the Rush Circuit Court last week seeing a preliminary injunction to halt the closure of the Indiana Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Children’s Home until state lawmakers have a chance to address the issue.

Indianapolis attorney Everett Powell II filed the petition last Thursday on behalf of two plaintiffs, a 17-year-old resident-student of the Home and the ISSCH Alumni Association. Named as defendants are Gov. Mitch Daniels and the Indiana State Department of Health, the state agency that is leading efforts to close the Home at the end of the current school year.

The petition seeks a preliminary injunction preventing the defendants “from removing any property from the Home,” and keeping the Home open “until the Indiana Legislature has the opportunity to address the issue regarding closure of the Home.” According to the petition, the student and Alumni Association could both suffer irreparable harm if a preliminary injunction is not granted.

As for the student, the petition says he “would suffer irreparable harm of losing his safe mentoring community and educational opportunities provided by the Home, which are unique to fit the needs of at-risk youth” like him “and other students similarly situated.” The petition also alleges irreparable harm would be caused “by taking away his opportunity to receive the full benefits of the Home and forcing him back into a community lacking the ability to give him the attention needed to succeed personally and educationally.”

With respect to the Alumni Association, Powell said in the petition that they could suffer irreparable harm through the potential misallocation of funds the group had given with the intention of funding the Home and keeping it in operation. If an injunction is not granted, the petition said the Alumni Association’s “property, assets and contributions are likely to be used in a manner inconsistent with the intentions of the donors, thereby causing them harm.”

Powell also said in the petition that “the threatened injury to each plaintiff outweighs the harm of continuing to fund and operate the Home. ...” Additionally, he said the public interest would be served in several ways by granting the injunction.

It’s in the public interest, Powell told the court, to keep the Home open until state lawmakers have a chance to address the issue. “The legislative representatives would be given an opportunity to speak the will of the public in lieu of the Executive closing the Home unilaterally,” he said.

Powell also said keeping the Home open serves the public interest “by giving the at-risk youth of the state the opportunity to thrive in an educational environment designed and suited for their special needs.” If the injunction is not granted, the petition goes on to say the student plaintiff and other students “will be harmed by forced displacement and will be sent to communities ill-suited to deliver the necessary, unique attention and opportunities that the Home offers.”

“Students attend the Home at least in part because their ‘home’ communities have failed them,” the petition alleges, “by being unable to offer an environment for educational and personal success.”

Powell told The Banner that the lead plaintiff in this case has been at the Home for less than a year. However, he said during that time, the student has made great progress.

“Before he went to the Home, he was making bad grades,” Powell said. “Now, he’s on the honor roll. His life has honestly changed since he’s been there at the Home. ... It’s definitely noticeable that the Home has made him a better person and given him a more promising future.”

Powell is in a unique position to attest to the value of the Home to Indiana’s at-risk youth -- he graduated from the Home’s Morton Memorial School in 1996. During a rally in support of the Home held at the statehouse on Jan. 26, Powell attributed much of his post-high school achievements, which have included military service, a college education and a law degree, to the care and motivation he received from faculty and staff at the Home.

Last Friday, the day after he filed the petition seeking the preliminary injunction, Powell filed a request for an emergency hearing. That request, he said, was made after learning that the state had already removed some items from the Home.

According to Powell, however, the emergency hearing became unnecessary after an attorney representing the ISDH contacted him and told him the property removed last week will be returned to the Home. Powell told The Banner he was uncertain as to exactly what had been removed from the Home, but said he would be asking the ISDH’s attorney to provide a detailed list of all items taken and returned.

Commenting on the request for the injunction, Powell said, “I think that it’s a shame that we have to go through this means of trying to be heard on this issue.” However, he said he and his clients don’t believe the Home should be closed before lawmakers have a chance to weigh in on the issue and before there’s been a determination as to who owns property at the Home.

“There are some donors who have given property for the (use) of the Home,” Powell said. “To remove that property, to sell that property or distribute it ... would be against the donors’ intent. So we believe there are some legal issues there with whether or not (the defendants) even have the right to remove property. ... You can’t just go into the Home and start removing property without knowing who the property belongs to.”

Powell said he was glad that the state has agreed to return the property that was removed from the Home last week. “I’m very excited about this accomplishment, but the fight’s not over,” he said. “It’s stopped them from essentially ripping our heritage away from us without having to answer to us. We’ve stopped them from at least doing that, but there’s still this fear looming in the air that they’re going to continue to take other efforts, and they might not be forthright about them.”

Jane Jankowski, press secretary for Gov. Daniels, told The Banner on Monday that their office was aware of the petition that Powell filed last week in the Rush Circuit Court. However, she said they had no comment on the matter. The Banner also contacted the ISDH to seek comment on the court filing, but had received no response from the agency as of Tuesday’s news deadline.

A hearing on the request for a preliminary injunction is scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 19, at 9 a.m. in the Rush Circuit Court. The proceedings are open to the public.


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