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Lake County judge appointed; finalists named for second vacancy

December 5, 2018

Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb has appointed a magistrate judge as the newest judge of the Lake Superior Court and will soon begin the process of filling another Lake County court vacancy.

Holcomb’s office announced Tuesday that he selected Magistrate Judge Thomas P. Hallett to fill the vacancy on the Lake Superior Court created in July when Judge Elizabeth Tavitas joined the Indiana Court of Appeals. Hallett, a magistrate in the Lake Superior Court Civil Division, was one of three finalists selected from a pool of 13 applicants to succeed Tavitas.

Hallett, who earned his law degree at Indiana University Maurer School of Law, worked in private practice, as a city attorney and as the judge of the Lake Station City Court before becoming a Lake County magistrate judge in 2009. He will be sworn in at a later date.

Meanwhile, the Lake County Judicial Nominating Commission met Monday and Tuesday to interview 19 applicants to fill another upcoming vacancy in the Lake Superior Court. Led by Indiana Supreme Court Justice Geoffrey Slaughter, the JNC named three finalists on Tuesday afternoon to fill the vacancy that will open in January when Judge Jesse M. Villalpando retires: Aleksandra Dimitrijevic, Merrillville Town Court Judge Gina Jones and Magistrate Judge Michael Pagano.

Holcomb will select one of the JNC’s three finalists as Villalpando’s successor.

The Indiana Supreme Court removed Villalpando’s name from the Nov. 6 retention ballot after the judge informed the court he would retire rather than seek retention. Villalpando said he did not think it would be “open and honest with the voters of Lake county to stand for retention knowing full well that he does not intend to serve another term beginning January 1, 2019, if retained.” Additionally, a petition filed by his attorney said Villalpando wanted to resign due to a “substantial change in circumstances.”

The judge’s decision not to seek retention came two months after the Indiana Office of Judicial Administration filed a petition asking the Supreme Court to appoint a temporary replacement for Villalpando, citing dereliction of duty and complaining of unsubstantiated conspiracy theories involving court officials. Villalpando subsequently announced that he would take leave for the remainder of his term beginning Oct. 1, so a judge pro tempore is currently serving in his place.

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