New COA judge Tavitas honored as ‘true public servant’ at robing ceremony

There are many adjectives friends and colleagues used to describe Elizabeth Tavitas, the newest Indiana Court of Appeals judge, when they gathered to celebrate her ceremonial robing on Monday. Phrases like loving mother and grandmother, smartest person I know, steady temperament and thorough and meticulous work ethic were all given as descriptors for the new appellate judge as, one-by-one, her family members, school friends and fellow judges rose to congratulate the former Lake County jurist on her latest career success.

But as each speaker – including Gov. Eric Holcomb, Tavitas’ son Nathan Hansen, a friend from Notre Dame Law School and a Lawrence County judge – described their unique experiences with Tavitas, there was a common theme running through each set of remarks: service.

“Judge Tavitas is a true public servant,” Holcomb said. “She gets the service aspect of this.”

From a professional perspective, the judges’ friends and colleagues spoke about her state and local pro bono initiatives and her dedication to helping litigants through difficult family law cases, particularly those involving children. As a trial court judge, Tavitas led the effort to expand existing pro bono and mediation clinics in her courtroom.

But Monday’s ceremony also told the story of a jurist who cares about the people she interacts with off the bench. Hansen, for example, recalled his then-single mother choosing to spend time with him when he would interrupt her law studies as a child, rather than sending him away. He also took the opportunity to playfully apologize for frequently interrupting his mother’s studies all those years ago.

Patricia McLaughlin, the assistant director of career development at Notre Dame Law, was Tavitas’ classmate in law school and said she remembers the days of the jurist trying to balance her personal life with her schooling. Now, 18 years after leaving the law school, McLaughlin praised her longtime friend for her continued dedication to her alma mater, a dedication that has earned her recognition as a member of the Order of St. Thomas More, an organization that honors law school donors.

Lawrence Circuit Judge Andrea McCord described service as Tavitas’ “true talent,” pointing both to her work toward developing pro se clinics in her own court and across the state and to the time she devotes to her family and friends, McCord included.

“A true servant’s heart, a pure one, is really hard to find. It has been defined in many ways, often meaning to be helpful to a person no matter what their circumstances…and doing so humbly without recognition,” McCord said. “…This is the heart of my friend Beth.”

For her part, Tavitas dedicated her remarks to thanking the people who have supported her throughout her career. Looking out over the Indiana Supreme Court courtroom, which was nearly packed with well-wishers, the state’s newest appellate judge recognized her family members – including her daughters, Catherine and Christiann, who assisted in the ceremony – friends from as far back as high school, and colleagues new and old who had gathered in her honor.

Reflecting on her new position as an appellate judge – which she has officially held since early August – Tavitas called it the best job in the world. She gushed about her COA colleagues, saying they are among the classiest, kindest and most intelligent people she knows. She also said she has felt very welcomed onto the court, noting the other judges have greeted her with kind words, dinners and even invitations to stay in their homes as she has looked for housing in Indianapolis.  

But when addressing her predecessor, now-Senior Judge Michael Barnes, Tavitas was able to form only a few words.

“Judge Barnes, I’m never going to try to take your place, but…” Tavitas said, pausing as if she wanted to say more, but then decided against it. “I’m not going to try.”

The judge also recognized her former trial court colleagues, making them a promise as she dives into her new appellate work: to never forget the unique challenges that come with being a judge on a court of original jurisdiction.

Indiana Court of Appeals Chief Judge Nancy Vaidik closed Monday’s ceremony by likening the COA to a beehive, an organization that requires each bee to do its unique duty to ensure the goal – producing honey – is achieved. Noting Tavitas’ ascension to the appellate bench marks a new beginning for the state’s second highest court, Vaidik said she was looking forward to the contributions Tavitas would make to the COA “beehive” to bring about the court’s ultimate goal: justice.

In closing her remarks, Tavitas promised to do her part and continue her tradition of service.

“I’m so honored to serve,” she said.

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