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Committee questions Indiana judicial nominees

Michael W. Hoskins
February 11, 2010
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Indiana's three judicial nominees appeared before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee today to answer senators' questions nearly a month after they were tapped to fill openings in the state's federal courts.

Discussions regarding Department of Justice's Office of Legal Counsel nominee Dawn Johnsen have been delayed again. After two delays in the past 10 days, 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 joined three other nominees from different states in appearing before the committee in Washington, D.C.

This is the first step in the confirmation process, and this hearing preceded an Senate Judiciary executive business meeting where senators didn't have quorum to discuss the long-delayed nomination of Dawn Johnsen, who's been chosen to lead the Office of Legal Counsel. The next chance for that to happen will be following the weeklong President's Day break starting Monday. That time will also allow for senators to submit additional questions on the pending judicial nominations after today's discussion.

Following introductory remarks from Indiana's Democratic Sen. Evan Bayh and a brief introductory statement from each nominee, the Hoosier nominees only faced questions from interim committee chair Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., who was the only member of the minority party to attend the hearing. Sessions emphasized that this nomination hearing is the only real opportunity the American people have to see the nominees and ask questions of them. So, he directed a handful of questions at each person while also referring to the nominees' public questionnaires that have been submitted and can be viewed at the Senate Judiciary Committee's Web site.

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.

Sessions pressed the topic, saying it's an important issue about judicial activism and the committee should hear her views. "I am fully cognizant that the death penalty is the law of land, and I'm fully under oath to uphold it," she said in response. "I have never expressed such a view on the death penalty, and will continue to refrain from expressing views as it's an issue that may appear before me." Sessions questioned Judge Pratt about a case where she allowed a burglary convict to be transferred from state prison to a low-security facility over the prosecutor's objections, as allowed by state statute. The convict escaped and was convicted for his involvement in a murder.  

"That was a huge learning experience for me as a state court judge, and an example of the difficult decisions we have to make as judges," she said. "I do regret that, though you couldn't predict that would happen. This was a heartbreaking, horrible experience and it goes to show the huge impact our decisions have on the community." No timeline has been set for when the committee will vote on the judicial nominations.

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  1. Just an aside, but regardless of the outcome, I 'm proud of Judge William Hughes. He was the original magistrate on the Home place issue. He ruled for Home Place, and was primaried by Brainard for it. Their tool Poindexter failed to unseat Hughes, who won support for his honesty and courage throughout the county, and he was reelected Judge of Hamilton County's Superior Court. You can still stand for something and survive. Thanks, Judge Hughes!

  2. CCHP's real accomplishment is the 2015 law signed by Gov Pence that basically outlaws any annexation that is forced where a 65% majority of landowners in the affected area disagree. Regardless of whether HP wins or loses, the citizens of Indiana will not have another fiasco like this. The law Gov Pence signed is a direct result of this malgovernance.

  3. I gave tempparry guardship to a friend of my granddaughter in 2012. I went to prison. I had custody. My daughter went to prison to. We are out. My daughter gave me custody but can get her back. She was not order to give me custody . but now we want granddaughter back from friend. She's 14 now. What rights do we have

  4. This sure is not what most who value good governance consider the Rule of Law to entail: "In a letter dated March 2, which Brizzi forwarded to IBJ, the commission dismissed the grievance “on grounds that there is not reasonable cause to believe that you are guilty of misconduct.”" Yet two month later reasonable cause does exist? (Or is the commission forging ahead, the need for reasonable belief be damned? -- A seeming violation of the Rules of Profession Ethics on the part of the commission) Could the rule of law theory cause one to believe that an explanation is in order? Could it be that Hoosier attorneys live under Imperial Law (which is also a t-word that rhymes with infamy) in which the Platonic guardians can do no wrong and never owe the plebeian class any explanation for their powerful actions. (Might makes it right?) Could this be a case of politics directing the commission, as celebrated IU Mauer Professor (the late) Patrick Baude warned was happening 20 years ago in his controversial (whisteblowing) ethics lecture on a quite similar topic: http://www.repository.law.indiana.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1498&context=ilj

  5. I have a case presently pending cert review before the SCOTUS that reveals just how Indiana regulates the bar. I have been denied licensure for life for holding the wrong views and questioning the grand inquisitors as to their duties as to state and federal constitutional due process. True story: https://www.scribd.com/doc/299040839/2016Petitionforcert-to-SCOTUS Shorter, Amici brief serving to frame issue as misuse of govt licensure: https://www.scribd.com/doc/312841269/Thomas-More-Society-Amicus-Brown-v-Ind-Bd-of-Law-Examiners

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