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Senate confirms Von Bokkelen for U.S. District judgeship

Michael W. Hoskins
January 1, 2007
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A federal prosecutor in northern Indiana will be the newest member of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District in Hammond.

The full U.S. Senate unanimously confirmed U.S. Attorney Joseph Van Bokkelen's appointment Thursday, meaning he will succeed retiring Judge Rudy Lozano who is taking senior status.

President George W. Bush, who nominated the veteran trial lawyer, still needs to sign Van Bokkelen's appointment, which he could do after Judge Lozano steps down after July 10. Van Bokkelen would be sworn in after that.

The president nominated Von Bokkelen after being recommended in November by Sen. Richard Lugar, whose office sent a news release late Thursday afternoon congratulating Von Bokkelen and crediting his prosecutor experience for the confirmation.

"His performance as U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Indiana has been nothing short of remarkable and I am confident that he will approach his judgeship with the same enthusiasm and proficiency," the release said.

During the confirmation hearing before the 19-member committee in April, Von Bokkelen answered questions that ranged from background, how Von Bokkelen would fairly consider cases that could come before the court from prosecutors he once worked with, and his views on the ongoing U.S. attorney firing controversy in regard to the proper balance between prosecutorial independence and the presidential prerogative to appoint nominees.

He also noted three judges in particular whom he's looked up to during his career: 7th Circuit Judge Michael Kanne, who hailed from the Northern District of Indiana; deceased Northern District Judge Phil McNagy Jr., who was a former assistant U.S. attorney; and St. Joseph Judge George Beamer, who Von Bokkelen described as being a role model and mentor in his role as prosecutor.

Since his appointment as a federal prosecutor in 2001, Van Bokkelen has prosecuted hundreds of guns and drug cases and built a reputation for aggressively prosecuting public corruption. He led the highly publicized Operation Restore Public Integrity, a wide-ranging corruption probe that targeted some of northwest Indiana's most powerful political figures. His office has sent to prison more than 30 public officials, including former U.S. Congresswoman Katie Hall, former state Democratic Party Chair Peter Manous, and former Lake County auditor and assessor Peter Benjamin. The office also took on politicians in East Chicago, sending city officials and contractors to prison for a sidewalks-for-votes scheme designed to help re-elect Mayor Robert Pastrick.

Before becoming U.S. attorney, Van Bokkelen practiced law in Highland and concentrated his practice in litigation and criminal defense. He was also an assistant federal prosecutor and a special assistant to the Lake County Prosecutor's Office.
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  2. Seventh Circuit Court Judge Diane Wood has stated in “The Rule of Law in Times of Stress” (2003), “that neither laws nor the procedures used to create or implement them should be secret; and . . . the laws must not be arbitrary.” According to the American Bar Association, Wood’s quote drives home this point: The rule of law also requires that people can expect predictable results from the legal system; this is what Judge Wood implies when she says that “the laws must not be arbitrary.” Predictable results mean that people who act in the same way can expect the law to treat them in the same way. If similar actions do not produce similar legal outcomes, people cannot use the law to guide their actions, and a “rule of law” does not exist.

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