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Praising new judicial selections

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The Hoosier legal community is publicly praising the newest nominees for the state's federal bench as good choices, particularly for those interested in seeing a more diverse judiciary.

The White House announced Jan. 20 that Jon E. DeGuilio , U.S. Magistrate Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson and Marion Superior Judge Tanya Walton Pratt would be nominated for three openings in the state's two U.S. District Courts.

This came two days after Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Indiana, made the announcement about the nominations at the federal courthouse in Indianapolis on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. In the Northern District, the nominee would fill the void left by Judge Allen Sharp, who died in July after serving in senior status for about two years. The Southern District seats are open after Judge Larry McKinney took senior status in July and Judge David F. Hamilton was elevated in November to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals.

While the triple-announcement comes as a first in the number of Hoosier judicial nominations made at the same time, Judge Pratt represents a historic milestone in that she'd be the first African-American to hold a seat on the federal bench in Indiana. Also, if Judges Pratt and Magnus-Stinson are approved, this would double from two to four the number of women on Indiana's federal bench.

The nominations come just as a new University of Albany study shows that female representation among the federal judiciary is lacking nationally - women make up 22 percent of all federal judgeships, with most states at the 20 percent mark and only Connecticut and New Jersey hitting the 33 percent mark. Currently, U.S. District Court Judges Sarah Evans Barker and Theresa Springmann put Indiana at the 20 percent mark, but if the new female nominees are confirmed, four of the 10 federal judges would be women.

Aside from the historic nature of the female nominees, Bayh described all three as being "recognized leaders in the Indiana legal community, demonstrating experience, insight, and non-ideological temperament that Hoosiers should expect from their judges. Indiana's Republican Sen. Dick Lugar praised his colleague's deliberative process in choosing these three, whom he also describes as legal community leaders.

DeGuilio currently serves as general counsel and vice president for Peoples Bank in northwest Indiana, after his six years in the 1990s as chief federal prosecutor for the Northern District of Indiana, and a stint as Lake County prosecutor and as a public defender there. He's also worked as a partner at the South Bend office of Barnes & Thornburg.

Magistrate Judge Magnus-Stinson started at the Marion Superior Court in the mid-90s and through the years presided over every type of felony case before moving to the federal bench in January 2007 to replace the retiring Magistrate Judge V. Sue Shields. Prior to the state bench, she served as counsel and deputy chief of staff to then-Gov. Bayh; she also worked in the civil litigation practice at LewisWagner for seven years before that.

Judge Pratt is on the Marion Superior bench, currently presiding over civil and probate cases after many years of handling major felony cases. She also has served on the Marion Superior Court's executive committee. She was a family law and probate attorney and a deputy public defender prior to taking the bench.

The first step for each of the nominees is the Senate Judiciary, which must approve a nomination before sending it to the full Senate for consideration. No timeline exists on the confirmation process, but the past four Indiana judicial nominees have taken anywhere from four to eight months. Nationally, other judicial nominations have been delayed for years when opposition arose.

In the legal community, attorneys asked about their thoughts on the nominations expressed satisfaction about each of the nominees whom they've practiced with or appeared before either in state or federal court.

Attorney Larry Evans at Valparaiso law firm Hoeppner Wagner & Evans, a frequent practitioner in federal court, said he's known DeGuilio through bar association and other connections through the years. Even though he hasn't had experience on the bench, Evans said he thinks his colleague is well qualified and has the ideal temperament, judicial demeanor, and overall intellect for the bench.

"That's not necessarily a good thing," he said about only having nominees who've presided on the bench. "That's the European model, where you're trained to become a judge right out of law school. But that's not how our system operates."

Other attorneys in the Northern District, such as Bill Padula in Munster and T. Edward Page in Merrillville, said that DeGuilio would make a fine addition to the federal bench because of his professionalism, temperament, and sharp legal mind. For DeGuilio, federal dockets show his name appearing in 40 criminal, civil, and bankruptcy cases through the years, mostly in the mid-90s.

In the Southern District, Indianapolis criminal defense attorney D. Alan Ladd spoke highly of the two nominees there, echoing the comments made by other attorneys. He's appeared before both and has found them to be fair and evenhanded.

Particularly, he praised how Judge Pratt moved from the criminal to probate side following the death of longtime Superior Judge Charles Deiter in late 2008.

"That was not an easy transition for anyone because it's a total change of gears, but she's very bright and thoughtful and did it so well for everyone involved," he said. "They both have great temperament and I'm pleased to see them both nominated."

Indianapolis attorney John Kautzman at Ruckelshaus Kautzman Blackwell Bemis & Hasbrook also said he has experience appearing before both Southern District nominees.

"I always favor judges who have trial court experience," he said. "That's a valuable resource to draw upon, and I think it makes them better federal judges."

He's found both to have an unusual and uncanny ability to cut through miscellaneous and complex issues and get right to the heart of a matter, and make practical decisions for all parties.

"That's a strong and important trait for any judge," he said.

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  1. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  2. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

  3. Diversity is important, but with some limitations. For instance, diversity of experience is a great thing that can be very helpful in certain jobs or roles. Diversity of skin color is never important, ever, under any circumstance. To think that skin color changes one single thing about a person is patently racist and offensive. Likewise, diversity of values is useless. Some values are better than others. In the case of a supreme court justice, I actually think diversity is unimportant. The justices are not to impose their own beliefs on rulings, but need to apply the law to the facts in an objective manner.

  4. Have been seeing this wonderful physician for a few years and was one of his patients who told him about what we were being told at CVS. Multiple ones. This was a witch hunt and they shold be ashamed of how patients were treated. Most of all, CVS should be ashamed for what they put this physician through. So thankful he fought back. His office is no "pill mill'. He does drug testing multiple times a year and sees patients a minimum of four times a year.

  5. Brian W, I fear I have not been sufficiently entertaining to bring you back. Here is a real laugh track that just might do it. When one is grabbed by the scruff of his worldview and made to choose between his Confession and his profession ... it is a not a hard choice, given the Confession affects eternity. But then comes the hardship in this world. Imagine how often I hear taunts like yours ... "what, you could not even pass character and fitness after they let you sit and pass their bar exam ... dude, there must really be something wrong with you!" Even one of the Bishop's foremost courtiers said that, when explaining why the RCC refused to stand with me. You want entertaining? How about watching your personal economy crash while you have a wife and five kids to clothe and feed. And you can't because you cannot work, because those demanding you cast off your Confession to be allowed into "their" profession have all the control. And you know that they are wrong, dead wrong, and that even the professional code itself allows your Faithful stand, to wit: "A lawyer may refuse to comply with an obligation imposed by law upon a good faith belief that no valid obligation exists. The provisions of Rule 1.2(d) concerning a good faith challenge to the validity, scope, meaning or application of the law apply to challenges of legal regulation of the practice of law." YET YOU ARE A NONPERSON before the BLE, and will not be heard on your rights or their duties to the law -- you are under tyranny, not law. And so they win in this world, you lose, and you lose even your belief in the rule of law, and demoralization joins poverty, and very troubling thoughts impeaching self worth rush in to fill the void where your career once lived. Thoughts you did not think possible. You find yourself a failure ... in your profession, in your support of your family, in the mirror. And there is little to keep hope alive, because tyranny rules so firmly and none, not the church, not the NGO's, none truly give a damn. Not even a new court, who pay such lip service to justice and ancient role models. You want entertainment? Well if you are on the side of the courtiers running the system that has crushed me, as I suspect you are, then Orwell must be a real riot: "There will be no curiosity, no enjoyment of the process of life. All competing pleasures will be destroyed. But always — do not forget this, Winston — always there will be the intoxication of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler. Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever." I never thought they would win, I always thought that at the end of the day the rule of law would prevail. Yes, the rule of man's law. Instead power prevailed, so many rules broken by the system to break me. It took years, but, finally, the end that Dr Bowman predicted is upon me, the end that she advised the BLE to take to break me. Ironically, that is the one thing in her far left of center report that the BLE (after stamping, in red ink, on Jan 22) is uninterested in, as that the BLE and ADA office that used the federal statute as a sword now refuses to even dialogue on her dire prediction as to my fate. "C'est la vie" Entertaining enough for you, status quo defender?

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