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Committee queries federal nominees

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The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee had a chance to ask questions of Indiana's three judicial nominees Feb. 11, and it's now poised to decide whether the full Senate should have a chance to consider them for the federal bench.

Almost a month after the White House nominated them to fill vacancies in Indiana's two District Courts, nominees Jon DeGuilio for the Northern District of Indiana, and Marion Superior Judge Tanya Walton Pratt and U.S. Magistrate Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson for the Southern District of Indiana faced questions from the committee in Washington, D.C.

Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., who was the only member of the minority party to attend the hearing, directed a handful of questions at each person. Receiving the fewest and least-specific questions was DeGuilio, who is legal counsel for Peoples Bank and has served as U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Indiana and Lake County prosecutor. Generally, DeGuilio joined the other nominees in saying he was familiar with and would respect the federal criminal sentencing guidelines, as well as established precedent.

But the female jurists received specific questions from Sessions, who questioned their views and handling of criminal sentencing issues. Specifically, he referred to a time on the state court bench when Magistrate Magnus-Stinson asked to not be assigned to cases involving the death penalty. Magistrate Magnus-Stinson said she'd consulted the Indiana Judicial Qualifications Commission, which advised her then to not make any public statements about the issue and that advice still applies.

He also asked Judge Pratt about a case in which she allowed for a burglary convict's transfer from state prison to a low-security facility over the prosecutor's objections, as allowed by state statute. The convict escaped and was involved in a murder for which he was later convicted. Sessions asked the judge to explain her decision and how that experience impacted her. She said it was a learning experience that illustrated how important judicial decisions are on the community.

In addition to those questions, the three also explained their experience and how that has prepared them for a federal judgeship, and how they view the responsibility of being on the bench.

Senators have the weeklong Presidents Day break to submit additional statements for the record before the nominations are ready for their review and possible voting. Each nominee has submitted a public questionnaire, which can be viewed online at the Senate Judiciary Committee's Web site at http://judiciary.senate.gov.

No timeline exists for when the committee must vote, but that could happen as soon as the next scheduled executive business meeting Feb. 25. That is also when senators are expected to discuss the longdelayed nomination of Dawn Johnsen, who's been chosen to lead the Office of Legal Counsel but has faced delays from Republican senators since her initial nomination in early 2009. The committee didn't have enough members present at a Feb. 11 meeting to discuss her nomination.

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