Superior Judge Robert A. Pete, 54, apparently died of natural causes, coroner's officials told a local newspaper, and the local legal community was reeling from his unexpected death. A bailiff went to the judge's home after he didn't arrive in court or notify staff about his absence.
Judge Pete was appointed to the Superior Court's Civil Division 5 courtroom in Hammond in 2001 and faced a retention vote in 2004.
"(He) was a respected member of the bench, known for his intelligence, temperament, and knowledge of the law," Lake Superior Judge Thomas Stefaniak said. "Judge Pete was a very approachable person, an all around good guy, and he will be missed."
One of Judge Pete's more prominent cases came in October when he denied gun makers' request to dismiss a lawsuit filed by Gary officials in 1999, which alleged the gun makers do little to control the flow of handguns used in crimes. His landmark ruling was that the 2005 federal Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act would deprive the city of its rights to due process.
Judge Pete also was involved a 2004 ruling in a suit filed by residents blocking collection of property tax bills after statewide changes to tax assessments.
The judge ruled that state laws that give massive tax breaks to industrial companies were unconstitutional.
A native of Gary, Judge Pete earned his law degree at Indiana University School of Law - Bloomington. He began his law practice in 1977 and worked as a private attorney for 22 years before becoming a part-time commissioner in the courts. He became a magistrate in the county's Gary courtroom in 1999.
His wife, Judith, and their four sons survive him.