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Court excited about magistrate's elevation

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Within a week, the state's third federal female judge could be ready to handle her constitutionally created duties in the Southern District of Indiana.

The full Senate on Monday unanimously confirmed by voice vote U.S. Magistrate Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson, making her a federal judge and elevating her from the spot she's held since early 2007. She succeeds semi-retired Judge Larry McKinney.

Introducing the three nominees and speaking generally about them, Sen. Pat Leahy, D-Vt., praised the trio but pointed out how Senate Republicans have delayed judicial nominations that end up being uncontroversial and approved unanimously.

"This is more than just an annoyance for those who've been nominated," Leahy said, noting the practicality of courts and individual nominees being hindered by the delays. "In meantime, their lives have been disrupted and the judiciary itself is put into disarray. There's no explanation, no excuse, no reason for these months of delay."

With this confirmation vote complete, this culminates a process that began for Magistrate Judge Magnus-Stinson in January, when President Barack Obama nominated her for the federal bench along with Marion Superior Judge Tanya Walton Pratt for a second Southern District opening, and attorney Jon DeGuilio for the Northern District of Indiana. No timeline is set for Judge Pratt's pending nomination; Senators confirmed DeGuilio last month.

Judge Magnus-Stinson declined to speak about the vote or her confirmation process before her commission is officially signed and received from President Obama. But Chief Judge Richard Young said that could happen in the coming days and she'll likely be ready for a full judicial docket next week.

Now that a confirmation vote is complete, a merit-selection panel is being chosen to select a new magistrate, he said. That panel will likely consist of 15 to 17 members, with at least two non-attorneys and at least seven lawyers. Applications are now being accepted and an ad will soon go out about the opening, the chief judge said. He hopes that selection process will happen quickly so that a new magistrate can be put in place in the coming months.

While he took the chief judge position in November 2009 and that has a term of seven years, Judge Magnus-Stinson is next on the roster of jurists to take that administrative position. She succeeded former Magistrate Judge V. Sue Shields in January 2007, after 12 years on the Marion Superior bench. Prior to the state bench, she worked in the early 1990s as chief legal counsel for then-Gov. Evan Bayh, who ultimately recommended her to the president.

"She's one of the most qualified we've had in some time, and has touched all the judicial bases," Chief Judge Young said.

Judge Sarah Evans Barker, who was the state's first woman judge on the federal bench, welcomed her colleague to the Article III family.

“She's a wonderful colleague already and she'll move smoothly into the District Court duties," Judge Barker said. "This will be a broader level of responsibility, but she'll do fine."

This nomination is historic, in that Judge Magnus-Stinson becomes only the third woman to ever be named to the federal bench in Indiana. She joins Judge Barker and Judge Teresa Springmann in the Northern District of Indiana.

Reflecting on that gender diversity, Judge Barker said she feels like former Justice Sandra Day O'Connor did when welcoming Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg to the Supreme Court.

"This is important. It's entirely welcome and has been a long time coming," Judge Barker said.
 

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