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Judge Pratt makes history in move to federal bench

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With approval from the U.S. Senate, Marion Superior Judge Tanya Walton Pratt is ready to make a historic move to the state’s federal court system.

Senators voted unanimously today to confirm Judge Pratt to the Southern District of Indiana, meaning she’ll be the state’s first African-American federal judge and one of four female jurists on Indiana's federal bench.

This completes a nomination process that began in January with an announcement from Indiana’s Democratic Sen. Evan Bayh and nomination by President Barack Obama, followed by unanimous approval from the Senate Judiciary Committee in March.

Senators started discussion about 11:35 a.m. on the nominations of Judge Pratt and two other judicial nominees, but they didn’t discuss or debate any of the nominees specifically and no one raised any concerns before the voting process started about 11:50 a.m. An official vote came at 12:13 p.m.

“This (process) has been a test of patience, but I'm so very happy and honored,” Judge Pratt said moments after the vote, which she watched online from her office in the City-County Building. “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.”

She succeeds Judge David F. Hamilton, who moved up to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals late last year. Judge Pratt starts her new position once the president signs her commission in the coming days, and she expects the transition to officially take effect by June 25. She expects logistical details and interviews with federal courtroom staff to happen soon.

The move means she’ll resign from Marion Superior Court, where she has presided over the Probate Division since December 2008. Before taking on that role, she served as a criminal division judge since 1997, handling major felonies and presiding over 20 to 35 jury trials a year. Judge Pratt was first elected in 1996, but had served as a master commissioner in Marion Superior Court since 1993 after practicing privately.

Once she transitions to the federal bench, Judge Pratt will join Judges Sarah Evans Barker and Jane Magnus-Stinson in the Southern District of Indiana and Judge Theresa Springmann in the Northern District of Indiana as the state’s only federal female jurists.

Her confirmation comes a day after the Southern District of Indiana administered the oath to Judge Magnus-Stinson, who was nominated at the same time in January and the Senate confirmed unanimously on June 7. She had served as a magistrate since early 2007, moving from the Marion Superior bench.

Gov. Mitch Daniels is responsible for choosing a successor for Judge Pratt on Marion Superior Court, and that process officially starts once the governor’s office receives her resignation letter, said general counsel David Pippen. He expects a 30-day application process for those interested in the judicial spot, and then interviews will be conducted. Pippen said an exact timeline for the entire process isn’t clear and depends on the number of applicants and overall scheduling, which also overlaps with the search for a new Indiana Supreme Court justice once interviews begin in early July.

Whoever is chosen will be of the same political party, Democrat, as Judge Pratt, and that person will fulfill the remainder of her term that runs through 2014.
 

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