JNC files report on COA finalists to Holcomb

Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb now has 60 days to select Indiana’s next Court of Appeals judge after the Indiana Judicial Nominating Commission officially submitted the names of its three finalists on Friday.

In a seven-page letter submitted to Holcomb, Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Loretta Rush describes the personal and judicial traits she and the JNC identified that qualify St. Joseph Superior Judge Steven L. Hostetler, Lake Superior Judge Elizabeth Tavitas and Fort Wayne attorney David C. Van Gilder to replace retiring Judge Michael Barnes. The commission named the three finalists after interviewing 12 applicants in late April and early May, then conducting a second round of interviews with six semi-finalists on May 16. Barnes is retiring on June 1.

“In selecting this panel, the Commission considered all information pertinent to the non-exclusive statutory factors: legal education and honors; legal writings; reputation and experience in the practice of law; physical condition and health; financial interests; and public service activities, writings, speeches, and contributions to improve the administration of justice,” Rush wrote.

Referring to Hostetler as a pragmatic jurist with a reputation for insightful analysis and sound decision-making, Rush noted the St. Joseph County judge began his legal career as a private practice attorney focusing his work on creditor rights and bankruptcy. Hostetler tried two civil jury trials while a practitioner, as well as numerous civil bench trials.

Since his appointment to the bench in 2013, Hostetler has primarily presided over a civil docket including business disputes, family law matters, foreclosures, collections and tort litigation, Rush wrote. On the criminal side, he’s issued search warrants and made probable cause determinations. 

Hostetler also serves as the presiding judge of the St. Joseph County Veterans Treatment Court and promotes pro bono service in the county by posting pro bono opportunities at the courthouses and personally calling attorneys to thank them for their pro bono service. Outside of the courtroom, Rush said Hostetler serves on the Indiana State Bar Association’s Diversity Committee, has served on the Judicial Conference of Indiana’s board of directors and has mentored at-risk youth in the South Bend Community School Corporation.

Turning next to Tavitas’ qualifications, Rush said the Lake County judge is known as “a true public servant with a keen intellect, giving spirit, and steady temperament.” Prior to taking the bench, Tavitas was a deputy prosecutor in Lake County who served as the lead attorney for roughly 20 felony jury trials.

Tavitas then transitioned to work as a part-time public defender in the Lake County Juvenile Division, where most of her work was focused on representing juveniles charged with crimes. She also maintained a solo practice handling family law, criminal, juvenile, worker’s compensation and personal injury cases, Rush wrote.

Former Gov. Mitch Daniels appointed Tavitas to the Lake Superior bench in 2006, where she now presides over domestic relations and protection order cases. During her time as a judge, Rush said Tavitas has implemented new cooperative family law rules, sponsored multiple guardian ad Litem trainings, developed an Alternative Dispute Resolution Program and implemented the Indiana Supreme Court’s Protection Order Registry across the county.

In the greater legal community, Tavitas is the supervisor for the Lake County Pro Se Legal Clinic and serves on the Domestic Relations Committee of the Judicial Conference of Indiana. She’s also worked as a moot court judge and as a mentor to Notre Dame law students.

Finally, Rush described Van Gilder as an advocate for pro bono services and for causes that “cannot ‘speak for themselves,’” such as natural resources preservation.  While he is now a name partner at Van Gilder & Trzynka in Fort Wayne — where he primarily represents plaintiff’s personal injury, worker’s compensation and family law cases — Van Gilder began his career as an energy law attorney.

After a two-year stint working in Botswana for the Peace Corps, Van Gilder returned to Indiana to serve as a judicial law clerk to multiple judicial officers, including then-Magistrate Judge Paul Mathias. The attorney has worked at three law firms during his career, handling 11 civil jury trials, one felony jury trial and multiple misdemeanor jury trials, Rush wrote.

On the appellate level, Van Gilder has written more than 30 appellate briefs and has argued before the Indiana Court of Appeals and Supreme Court. He’s also served as a judge pro tempore on domestic relations and child support cases.

Van Gilder’s legal service includes the creation of the Volunteer Lawyer Program of Northeast Indiana and a term as present of the Allen County Bar Association. In 2013, the Indiana Pro Bono Committee awarded Van Gilder the Randall T. Shepard Excellence in Pro Bono Award, Rush wrote.

In the larger community, Van Gilder has continued his work with the Peace Corps by serving as an advocacy coordinator for the organization. He also teaches environmental law and environmental ethics and business practice at the University of Saint Francis.

“I am confident that you will conclude that all three nominees are of a high caliber and would be a lasting credit to the Court of Appeals of Indiana,” Rush said in concluding the letter.

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