The judge overseeing Bloomington’s annexation hearing recused herself from the case citing a conflict of interest — delaying a hearing in a challenge the city filed almost two years ago.
Monroe Circuit Court special judge Kelsey Hanlon issued an order recusing herself from the matter and canceled a hearing scheduled to occur 11 a.m. Thursday in the Monroe County courthouse.
In an email sent to attorneys involved in the case, Hanlon said her husband, Justin Roddye, had a change in employment that led to an “unwaivable conflict of interest.” Roddye recently accepted a position in the Monroe County’s legal department, which provides legal support for county government departments such as the auditor’s office.
Annexation allows cities to enlarge their municipal boundaries to increase their population and area. Thursday’s rescheduled hearing addresses Bloomington’s most recent annexation effort, which began in 2017 but has received opposition from residents.
Bloomington started efforts to annex seven areas in 2017, but the state legislature suspended the annexation through the 2017 state budget bill. The city challenged this suspension in court, and the Indiana Supreme Court ruled in 2020 the state legislature violated the state constitution because it unfairly targeted Bloomington specifically.
The city filed a lawsuit against former Monroe County Auditor Catherine Smith in March 2022 arguing Smith counted invalid remonstrance petitions, petitions Monroe County residents signed to oppose annexation efforts.
Smith left her position as auditor to become the Monroe County Treasurer on Jan. 20, but is still listed as the defendant.
In five of the seven proposed annexation areas, 65% of residents signed a petition to void annexation. In the lawsuit, the city argues these annexation efforts are unconstitutional due to a 2019 state law that took effect after the city’s initial annexation attempt in 2017. This 2019 law voided all remonstrance waivers – a waiver residents sign that essentially gives up their right to protest annexation in exchange for living in an area with city sewer access — that were 15 years or older.
When this law passed, 80% of the remonstrance waivers signed by residents in the proposed annexation areas were instantly voided. The city was relying on many of these remonstrance waivers to successfully annex the areas.
A hearing for the annexation trial will not be held until a new judge accepts jurisdiction over the case.
According to the order, the plaintiff, the City of Bloomington, and defendant, Smith, have until Feb. 15 to agree on a special judge and file this agreement with the Monroe Circuit Court. If the recommended judicial officer does not accept jurisdiction over the case or the parties do not agree on a judge, the Monroe Circuit Court will refer the case to a local judicial appointment. If the local judicial appointment declines to take jurisdiction, the court will then refer the matter to a district facilitator, who will help appoint a new special judge.
A separate lawsuit filed by County Residents Against Annexation, a nonprofit formed to oppose Bloomington’s annexation efforts, involves areas 1A and 1B. These areas collected enough signatures to have their petitions reviewed by the courts, but not enough to completely void annexation efforts. A trial for this lawsuit is scheduled for April 29.