A federal magistrate, a trial court judge, and a banking attorney who's served as a federal and county prosecutor are in line to be the newest additions to Indiana's federal bench.
Sen. Evan Bayh announced Jan. 18 that U.S. Magistrate Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson, Marion Superior Judge Tanya Walton Pratt, and Jon E. DeGuilio would be nominated for three openings in the state's two U.S. District Courts.
The Southern District seats are open after Judge Larry McKinney took senior status in July and following Judge David F. Hamilton's elevation in November to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. In the Northern District, the nominee would fill the void left by Judge Allen Sharp, who died in July after serving in senior status for about two years.
Traveling to Indianapolis, Bayh conducted a news conference at the building named after his father – the Birch Bayh Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse at 46 E. Ohio St. – inside the William E. Steckler ceremonial courtroom, introducing each of the three nominees.
While the announcement comes as a first in the number of Hoosier judicial nominations named at the same time, Judge Walton Pratt represents a historic milestone in that she'd be the first African-American to hold a seat on the Indiana federal bench.
"Today, we take a historic step in creating a more diverse federal judiciary in our state," Bayh said. "These highly qualified Hoosiers have impeccable records and rich backgrounds that will help move us closer to our goal of realizing equal justice under law."
* Judge Walton Pratt is currently the presiding judge in the Marion Superior Probate Division. She's been in that role since serving as presiding judge from 1997 to December 2008 of the criminal division, where she handled major felonies and presided over 20 to 35 jury trials a year. She was first elected in 1996 but had served as a master commissioner in Marion Superior Court since 1993. Before donning the robe, Judge Walton Pratt was a partner in the Indianapolis law firm of Walton & Pratt, focusing her practice on family law, bankruptcy, and probate law. She had also worked as a deputy public defender in Marion County. She earned her law degree from Howard University School of Law.
* Judge Magnus-Stinson started at the Marion Superior Court in 1995 as a replacement to Judge John Tranberg, taking over that court and through the years presiding over every type of felony case. She also served as associate presiding judge of the Marion Superior Court Executive Committee. She moved to the federal bench in January 2007 to replace the retiring Magistrate Judge V. Sue Shields. Prior to the state bench, she served as counsel and deputy chief of staff to then-Gov. Bayh from 1991 to 1995, and she practiced in civil litigation at LewisWagner for seven years before that. A native of Wisconsin, she earned her law degree from Indiana University School of Law – Indianapolis in 1983.
* DeGuilio is executive vice president, general counsel, and corporate secretary for Northwest Indiana Bancorp, and is also executive vice president and general counsel for Munster-based Peoples Bank. He joined the bank in December 1999 as senior vice president and trust officer after leaving the public sector where he served as U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Indiana from November 1993 to June 1999. DeGuilio is a former Lake County prosecutor and has worked as a public defender. He also was a partner with Barnes & Thornburg and practiced in the law office of James L. Wieser. He earned his law degree from Valparaiso University School of Law in 1981.
Bayh said that each nominee has proven to be deserving of public trust, demonstrating the highest ethical standards and a firm commitment to applying the country's laws fairly and faithfully.
"They know their job is to interpret our laws, not write them," he said.
Last year, members of the newly formed Metropolitan Committee for Judicial Justice group urged the president to use the judicial vacancies as an opportunity to address a lack of diversity to the openings in South Bend and Indianapolis. Currently, U.S. Judge Theresa Springmann in South Bend and Judge Sarah Evans Barker in Indianapolis are the only two women to serve on the state's federal bench. U.S. Judge Rudy Lozano – on the bench since 1984, he took senior status in July 2007 – was the first Latino ever appointed to the federal bench in Indiana and has been the only minority appointee.
As the White House is responsible for officially announcing any federal judicial nominees, Bayh's remarks on Martin Luther King Jr. Day prefaced what was expected to be confirmed by the White House once President Barack Obama officially nominated each person. Following that, each jurist faces Senate confirmation – a process that has no timeline but could be influenced by the timing of the congressional elections in November and significant ongoing legislative issues, such as health-care reform.
These judicial nominations mean that Indiana now has a total of five nominations pending before the U.S. Senate. Just before Christmas, the president nominated David Capp for U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Indiana. That nomination hasn't moved since Dec. 23, but it's expected to soon start moving through the confirmation process. Bloomington law professor Dawn Johnsen was nominated a year ago by President Obama to lead the Office of Legal Counsel within the Department of Justice, but her nomination stalled. Though her selection essentially died at the end of last year, the Senate has revived her initial nomination and the Senate Judiciary expects to hold additional hearings within the coming months.
Now Indiana is only waiting on word from the White House about who will be selected as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Indiana. That post has been open since the former top prosecutor stepped down in September 2007; second-in-command Tim Morrison has been acting in that role until a new person is confirmed.