First round of Court of Appeals interviews complete

The Indiana Judicial Nominating Commission is now in the process of determining which of the 12 applicants who applied to fill a coming Indiana Court of Appeals vacancy will be asked to sit for a second round of interviews later this month.

The JNC – led by Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Lorretta Rush – interviewed the final four candidates to replace retiring Judge Michael Barnes on Tuesday morning. Barnes will leave the bench on June 1 after serving as the presiding judge of the court’s Third District, which encompasses northern Indiana and also includes Judges Paul Mathias and Terry Crone.

Tuesday’s questions varied slightly from those asked of the eight candidates who interviewed on Monday morning and on Monday afternoon. The second-day applicants were asked to discuss their judicial philosophies and career goals, while also opining on more common issues, such as obstacles to justice.

Here’s a look at Tuesday’s discussions:

Jaime Oss

When it comes to increasing judicial diversity, La Porte attorney Jaime Oss see no other way than for members of the legal profession to get their feet wet and wade into minority communities. Community outreach is the best method of encouraging minority Hoosiers to join the legal profession, Oss said, while educating the public about the work of the courts is generally important. Oss also noted that as a woman attorney, she’s a minority within the legal field.

One female barrister whom Oss admires is Indiana Court of Appeals Judge Margret Robb, who served as the court’s first woman chief judge for a three-year term beginning in 2011. Oss praised Robb’s writing style, saying she has a knack for breaking complex legal issues into manageable parts. Oss also said Robb has been one of her legal mentors.

Lyle Hardman

Like many other applicants who interviewed to fill Barnes’ seat, Lyle Hardman identified costs and time delays as among the greatest obstacles to justice in Indiana. To that end, Hardman advocated for possible fee waivers, and for diverting funds to increase access to justice for the economically disadvantaged. He also said courts should take a harder look at mental illnesses and determine how they can provide treatment for mentally ill offenders.

On an appellate level, Rush noted that Hardman was a vocal advocate for merit-based selection for appellate judges in Michigan, where he is also licensed to practice. Asked about his thoughts on merit selection, the South Bend attorney said he was appalled by the personal attacks and political animosity that came with judicial elections in Michigan. Ending the politics — as well as finding qualified candidates and ensuring the judiciary is held accountable — is the biggest benefit of merit-based selection, he said.

Judge Elizabeth Tavitas

Looking back over her judicial career, there’s little, if anything, Lake Superior Judge Elizabeth Tavitas would change. Tavitas said the beginning of her judicial career presented her with a court that was outdated, but through the implementation of new programs, she’s been able to bring her court more up-to-speed. However, Tavitas also noted that the hardest part of her job is the sheer number of cases she’s asked to hear in her court every day.

Despite having a heavy caseload, the judge told the JNC she’s committed to equal protection under the law and equal access to justice. To that end, Tavitas said she is an advocate for access to justice programs, including providing pro bono services for litigants who are unable to afford a lawyer. Like Hardman, Tavitas said money is generally the greatest obstacle to justice for Hoosiers.

Andrew Teel

Fort Wayne attorney Andrew Teel doesn’t take any of his successes for granted — he came from a humble childhood with a single teenage mother — but he found success through the support of friends and mentors. Thus, if Teel were selected to join the COA bench, he said he would be able to see litigants as human beings with problems similar to those he’s faced, rather than merely parties to a case.

That humility also transfers to Teel’s judicial philosophy, which he said has evolved over the years. Though he originally viewed the practice of law as a pragmatic means of providing for his family, Teel now views his profession as an agent of change and good. If the end of his career finds society in a better state than when he began, then Teel says he’ll have accomplished his goals.

The JNC will publicly vote Tuesday afternoon to select semi-finalists to sit for a second round of interviews on May 16. The commission will then send three names to Gov. Eric Holcomb, who will make the final appointment to replace Barnes.

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