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2 new judges on federal court make history

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History has been written within the state’s legal community, thanks to a pair of new federal judges who within days of each other joined the Southern District of Indiana.

Their confirmations doubled the state’s number of female federal judges, shifted the District’s makeup so that a majority of the judges are women, and gave Indiana its first ever African-American on either of the two U.S. District courts here.

Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson was confirmed June 7, moving from the magistrate judge spot she’d held for just more than three years. A day after she took her oath, her colleague Marion Superior Judge Tanya Walton Pratt received an identical Article III judgeship on the same court.
 

walton pratt magnus stinson Judge Tanya Walton Pratt, left, and Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson (IL Photo/ Perry Reichanadter)

The two came from similar spots on the state trial court bench, though the path to the federal bench materialized in different ways. Their journey began during the past year as two positions opened in the court that covers the southern two-thirds of the state. They now share the experience of joining Judge Sarah Evans Barker in the Southern District and Judge Theresa Springmann in the Northern District as the only females in the Hoosier federal court system.

“Their coming to the court is so special and new, but it’s been a long time coming,” said Judge Barker, who became the state’s first female federal judge in 1984. “It matters so much that the bench is diverse, and in rapid order we’ve gone to being a majority on the court after many years of being a distinct minority.”

Adding to the excellent qualifications that’s already allowed both the new judges to hit the ground running, Judge Barker reflected on the gender diversity aspect and said she feels like former Justice Sandra Day O’Connor did when welcoming Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg to the Supreme Court.

“You may not be able to tell any difference in work product or whether an opinion is written by a man or woman judge, but this will enhance the quality of justice and makes it deeper and broader and even more credible,” she said.

Both Judges Pratt and Magnus-Stinson recognize the historical significance of their appointments, and they credit the joint leadership of Indiana’s Democratic Sen. Evan Bayh and Republican Sen. Richard Lugar for working together to find qualified, inclusive nominees.

After their nomination announcements in January – along with attorney Jon DeGuilio for the Northern District of Indiana – both Judges Pratt and Magnus-Stinson worked their way through a confirmation process they describe as interesting and fair. Senators confirmed DeGuilio in May.

“This (process) has been a test of patience, but I’m so very happy and honored,” Judge Pratt said. “I do respect the historic significance of being the first African-American in the state to join the federal bench, and that’s really a credit to Sen. Bayh for looking outside the traditional group of candidates to be inclusive.”

On the bench

Judge Pratt succeeds Judge David F. Hamilton, who was elevated to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals late last year. She leaves the Marion Superior Court, where she has presided over the Probate Division since December 2008. Before then, she served as a criminal division judge since 1997, handling major felonies and presiding over 20 to 35 jury trials a year, as well as supervising the juvenile detention center. Judge Pratt was first elected in 1996, but she had served as a master commissioner in Marion Superior Court since 1993 after practicing privately.

The president signed her commission the same day as the vote, and after submitting a resignation letter to the Indiana Supreme Court she expects to officially begin in the federal system June 25.

Judge Magnus-Stinson is there to guide her friend and colleague, who’s making the same kind of move from state to federal court that she experienced in early 2007 when she took over for retiring Magistrate Judge V. Sue Shields. Prior to that, Judge Magnus-Stinson had served for 12 years on the Marion Superior bench. She worked in the 1990s as chief legal counsel for then-Gov. Evan Bayh. She also had practiced civil litigation at LewisWagner following graduation from Indiana University School of Law – Indianapolis in 1983.

Now, Judge Magnus-Stinson succeeds Judge Larry McKinney who took senior status last summer. She started her judicial duties June 14 with plea agreement hearings and a jury trial within a week.

“There are differences, but that’s what makes this job so exciting,” Judge Magnus-Stinson said about the state and federal systems. “You get to keep your curiosity up, and you’re always learning a new area or issue of law. You never know what’s next.”

Both plan to attend a new judge school in Texas at the end of June. Once that happens they’ll be ready to jump full force into their respective dockets on which they’re already working.

The two hope their appointments will serve as examples to the community – that diversity is important and won’t keep anyone from their dreams as long as they work hard.

“You have to have those distinguished role models … so you can see others work hard and do it, and know that you can, too,” Judge Pratt said. She echoed Judge Magnus-Stinson who said one of the best parts of all this has been to see the pride in their daughters’ eyes about their mother’s accomplishments. “Any little girl can do it.”

Filling those vacancies

Now the process begins to fill their vacated posts. A merit selection committee will narrow the candidates and recommend potential magistrates, while Gov. Mitch Daniels is responsible for choosing Judge Pratt’s successor. That process has officially started, and the governor’s general counsel David Pippen expects a 30-day application window through mid-July for those interested in the judicial post. Interviews will follow, but Pippen said an exact timeline isn’t clear and depends on the number of applicants and overall scheduling. It likely will overlap with the search for a new Indiana Supreme Court justice for which interviews are slated to begin in early July.

Whoever is chosen will be of the same political party – Democrat – as Judge Pratt, in order to balance the total 36 Superior Court judges between both parties. Her successor will fulfill the remainder of her term that runs through 2014.•
 

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  1. This guy sounds like the classic molester/manipulator.

  2. Louis D. Brandeis was born in 1856. At 9 years of age it would have been 1865. The Brandeis family did not own slaves. My source Louis D. Brandeis: A Life, by Melvin L. Urofsky.

  3. My name is Matthew Lucas Major, I recently went through a jury trial in Bloomington , In. It was the week of Feb 19-21. Although I have been incarcerated since August 5, 2014. The reason I 'am writing to you sir is on the 21 of February the jury came in with a very excessive and wrongful verdict of guilty on 6 child molesting charges against my daughter who was 9 at the time I was accused. I also had 2 other Felonies one of Intimidation and 1 of Sexual Vicarious Gratification. Judge Marc Kellam on the second day of trial gave me a not guilty on those 2 felonies. The jury was sent out during that time and when brought back Judge Kellam told them to not concern themselves with the 2 Felonies that he ruled on them. They were told to not let evidence they had already heard influence there verdicts. I never in my life touched any child sexually and definitely not with my own daughter. When I was arrested Detective Shawn Karr told me I would be convicted guilty just on my daughters word even without evidence. That's just what happened. my public defender did me so wrong he never once proved to the court and jury all the lies the child told, and Jeremy Noel my public defender could of proven the lies easily. The stories in Serenity's depositions and Forensic interview changed and were not consistent as Prosecutor Darcie Fawcett claimed they were. Yet my attorney never mentioned that. The facts that the child accused me of full penetration in her vagina and rectum was proven lies. Doctor Roberta Hibbard of Riley hospital in Indianapolis confirmed Serenity's hymen intact, no scars, no tearing, no signs of rape to her. Yet my attorney didn't use that knowledge . the DNA was all in my favor. I tell you I will spend my entire life in prison going through rape and beatings etc. even Judge Kellam abused his authority by telling the jurors to listen and believe what the prosecutors side in evidence like my daughters testimony. In one interview with the detectives my daughter got flustered with her mom and said on camera " I'm saying what you told me to mom"!! Yet Mr. Noel said nor did anything to even resemble a defense attorney. Judge Kellam allowed edited version of a taped conversation between the child and her mother. Also Judge Kellam allowed the Prosecutor too bring in to my case a knife found under my seat, the knife wasn't part of my case. She was allowed by my attorney and the judge to put a huge picture of it on the screen and huge picture of my naked privates in a full courtroom and open court. Ms. Fawcett says to jury see how easy Mr. Major could reach the knife and cut his Childs throat. Even though I had no weapons charge against these cases. This gave the jurors prejudice thought against me thinking I threatened her with that knife and how scared she would of been knowing i could get it and kill her. On my sentencing court March 19, 2014 my public defender told Judge Kellam he wish to resign from being my attorney and wished for the court to give me outside council to file a error to trial or appeal. We were denied. Now after openly knowing my public defender don't want to represent me he has to. Well when as parents we make our kids clean a room when they really don't wish to, well the child will but don't mean she will do a good job, that's where I'm at with Mr. Noel. please dont ignore mine and my families pleas for your help . we have all the legal proof you could need to prove Im innocent. Please dont make my spend years in prison innocent when you can fix this wrong. Im not saying Im a perfect man or that I was a perfect dad to my 2 children none of us are. Ive made some bad choices in life and I paid for them. But I didnt ever touch or rape my daughter . I love my children with all my heart. And now through needing attention and a ex-wife who told my granny several times she wish she could put me in prison to get me out of their lives. Well my ex finally accomplished her goal. Sad part is she is destroying our daughter with all this horrific lies and things she taught my daughter to say. My daughter will need therapist to ever hope for a chance of a normal life after what she had done to her by her mom and their side of the family. My daughter told everyone even on stand she had a dream months before i supposedly molested her in this dream I was molesting her and when I finally did it matched her dream perfectly. She admitted to watching movies about little girls being molested and watching U-Tube videos about child molesting all before it happened supposedly to her. Doesn't that sound very unusual that a non molested 9 yr old would need to know so much about being molested? The only reason I could think a 9 year old would need so much information is to be prepared to know what to say and be able to say how it felt what took place etc.. So when questioned by authorities she would be prepared. And there again sir if a parent is pre grooming a 9 year old child she would need intimate details . Like telling her daughter about a couple moles on my private area. The child admitted to sneaking my cell and looking many many times at nudes of me and my girlfriend even one where my penis was entering my girlfriends vagina. In that picture my moles are obvious. Yet when prosecutor showed everyone in court my privates and pictures of the moles she said the only way the child would know about them is if she saw them for herself. My attorney once again said nothing about the pictures my child saw. Or could a ex-wife be able to describe my moles to help her case against getting rid of me? I beg you help me. This is my very existence. Ive lost everything , a good job, a wonderful girlfriend, my freedom, but worse thing Ive lost is my children. They were my reason to get up every morning and strive to be better. The wonderful bond I had with my Serenity is gone. After this I would be afraid to even hug her for fear of what next can they do to me. I'm not afraid to tell you I sit here in this cell and try to hold back my tears. Everyone knows you cant show weakness in prison. My life has already been threatened here at Wabash Valley Prison. After only 3 days of arrival. I was tricked into signing a waiver now Im in G Block General Population with 6 child molesting felony charges. Mrs. Hart as a 18 year old I almost died hooked to machines in hospital almost 1 month and now I know that fear was childish compared to this . I cant help but put emotions in this, after all Mrs. Hart Im human and God help Me I never been more afraid in my life. I didnt hurt my little girl I didnt touch her sexually. As much as it shreds me and fills my mind what Im facing I worry more about my mom and granny because of their great love for me mam they are suffering so deeply. I aint done this things but my loved ones suffering right along beside me and If you take my case you will be in essence freeing them also. I sent momma this letter and asked her to email it to you. I'm scared I have been done so unjustly by our legal system and I need you to fix this and give me freedom. I ask you please don't just ignore my pleas. Here in America its nice to be able to trust our legal justice system, well they destroyed my and my loved ones trust in our justice system . And I'm trusting in You !!! My entire family is suffering this nightmare with me. My 77 year old granny had a stroke and isn't doing so well. My single mother that raised 3 kids alone is dying from Lupus and since my arrest has stayed so sick and weary. Our lives torn to peices by a government I was taught I could trust in. my momma has tried so many innocent project and wrongfully accused and cant get anywhere. please please help me. A quote from the late Nelson Mandela: To be free is not merely to cast off ones chains, But to live in a way that respects and enhances The Freedom Of Others. I have Faith in you and your clinic to cast my chains off and give me freedom I do deserve as a wrongfully accused Man, son, brother, father, friend. Matthew Major DOC# 246179 Cause # : 53c02-1308-FA-000779 God Bless you. Please contact me with your decision so I know you made a life changing decision for me , just please at least write me so I know you care enough about your citizens to respond to cries for your help. You can speak openly with my mother Charlotte Spain (828) 476-0406: 71 Lakeview Dr. Canton, NC 28716 Thank You Matthew Major I know yall get thousands of request and inmates claiming innocence, and each person who are innocent deserve to have organizations like yours willing to fight for them and I give yall so much Thanks and I thank God everyday yall are out there caring enough to help free the innocents. Since discovering firsthand how easily lives and families can be destroyed by Poor Defense attorneys not doing their job . And Prosecutors allowed to do as they please in court

  4. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  5. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

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