Saturday, September 16, 2017
Research Tip: Indiana's Courts of Conciliation
The Indiana legislature passed "An act to establish Courts of Conciliation" on June 11, 1852, to go into effect on January 1, 1853. It called for the judge of each county's Court of Common Pleas to preside over a Court of Conciliation, to be held concurrently with the Court of Common Pleas. These courts of conciliation could hear cases about libel, slander, malicious persecution, assault & battery, or false imprisonment.
Unlike the Circuit Court and the Court of Common Pleas, the two parties who came before the Court of Conciliation could not be represented by an attorney. Parties were to appear on their own behalf. The only exceptions to this rule were if a party was under the age of 21 (in which case they had to be represented by their guardian) or was a woman (in which case she had to be represented by her husband or male friend). And in contrast to the other county courts, the decision of the Court of Conciliation could not be appealed – it was final.
The focus of the Court of Conciliation was also different from the Circuit Court and Court of Common Pleas. Rather than determining fault, the purpose was to get the two parties to reconcile their differences or effect a compromise. If the judge was successful in this, he would receive a $5 fee, which was to be paid equally by the two parties.
One example of a Court of Conciliation case occurred in Dearborn County in 1854, when Nancy Woolford sued Milton Beach for slander for words said by his wife. The compromise was that the wife denied saying the words, but her husband agreed to pay Woolford $75.80 in damages and court costs. Beach later unsuccessfully appealed to the state Supreme Court to void this agreement.
Courts of Conciliation existed in Indiana counties from January 1, 1853 until November 30, 1865, when the law was repealed.
This article originally appeared in the June 2017 issue of "Indiana News," IGS' free monthly email newsletter. Click here to subscribe and stay up-to-date with Indiana genealogy research tips and news.