Judge: BMV must resume issuing vanity license plates

WLFI File Photo
WLFI File Photo

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — A Marion County judge has once again ordered Indiana’s Bureau of Motor Vehicles to immediately resume issuing vanity license plates. But, the legal battle surrounding the case is still likely far from over.

Court records show Judge James Osborn denied the state’s “motion for stay” Wednesday.

The ruling comes less than a week after the agency requested the stay while it appeals to the Indiana Supreme Court. Judge Osborn also rejected a previous request by BMV attorneys last month that the case be thrown out due to errors in his ruling.

The legal battle surrounding the program has been ongoing since July 2013 when former BMV Commissioner Scott Waddell suspended the state’s personal license plate (PLP) program following a lawsuit filed by Greenfield Police Corporal Rodney Vawter. Osborn’s May ruling included a series of contradictory plate denials uncovered last year used as evidence in the case.

The ruling also found that the BMV commissioner does not have the legal authority to suspend the program. The judge ordered it to resume immediately under a new set of rules.

Last week, the BMV asked that the program be allowed to remain undersuspension pending the outcome of an appeal.

That motion was denied Wednesday.

“We’re obviously happy,” said American Civil Liberties Union Legal Director Ken Falk, who is representing Vawter in the case. “What the BMV is trying to do is stop from having to comply with the judgment while it’s appealing. We didn’t think that’s appropriate, and the judge did agree with that. It’s now more than two months since the decision, and the BMV has done nothing to try to promulgate and try to solve the problem they say will take time to solve. This was a program that was operational fully until the BMV pulled the plug a year ago. I don’t see the problem of reinstating it within the rules as set out by the judge.”

The BMV has said the ruling would require the state “to issue personalized plates that contain messages offensive to one’s race, religion, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation.”

“I just don’t think that’s correct,” Falk responded. “I think Judge Osborn’s decision sets out a rather narrow path that they can proceed with and continue issuing these plates.”

But, resumption of the program may still be on hold.

Falk said he agreed not to ask the court to enforce the order to resume the program while a request for a stay was pending. That request may not be appealed to the state’s highest court.

“The BMV can now appeal the denial of the stay directly to the Indiana Supreme Court, which is where the appeal is already of their case. And, they can do that right away if they so choose. I would expect them to seek a further stay. And, we will, of course, oppose that. If they do not immediately, then I will insist that they begin to comply,” he said.

Calls to a BMV spokesman seeking comment on the ruling were not immediately returned.

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