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The Journal Gazette

Wednesday, May 16, 2018 5:40 pm

Van Gilder named finalist for appeals-court vacancy

NIKI KELLY | The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS -- Fort Wayne attorney David Van Gilder is one of three finalists for a vacancy on the Indiana Court of Appeals.

The Indiana Judicial Nominating Commission chose him, Lake County Judge Elizabeth Tavitas and St. Joseph County Judge Steven L. Hostetler after more than three hours of deliberation Wednesday.

Gov. Eric Holcomb will select one of the three within 60 days to replace appellate Judge Michael Barnes, who is stepping down this summer.

Fort Wayne lawyer Andrew Teel also interviewed in the second round Wednesday but didn't make the final cut.

Van Gilder focuses on personal injury, zoning and administrative, environmental law, wills and estates, worker’s compensation and small business corporate.

Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Loretta Rush said she thoroughly enjoyed reading his application and commented on his diversity of experience and public service.

He said there are very few times when courts should overturn precedent as was done in the separate-but-equal case of Brown vs. Board of Education.

Van Gilder said it should only happen in "situations in which it is clear that people's individual rights are being systematically undermined" and when what is promised in the Constitution "has not been delivered by society."

He said pretty much every divorce case he takes through the voluntary lawyer program he knows he won't be paid but it's important for people to have access and representation in the courts.

Van Gilder said if he is appointed it would send a signal that a lawyer can work hard and reach the top rungs of the judiciary without first being a magistrate or trial judge.

"People know me in the legal community that I practice in and they would see that doing what I've done over the course of my 30 years here in Indiana has been recognized," he said.

Van Gilder couldn't identify any part of the Indiana Constitution that he would change if it were being written now, and said it's inappropriate for judges to do their own research outside of evidence given in a case.

Teel said if he were appointed as the youngest of the 15 appellate judges it would signal a "new energy" is coming.

He named former Allen County Judge Paul Mathias, who is on the Court of Appeals, as a role model for his tireless effort rolling out the electronic filing system.

Teel identified one specific appellate procedure he thinks could be modified that is costing court time. And when asked whether juries usually get it right, he said "more than attorneys would like to believe."

He said lawyers focus on small pieces of the law, while juries are "not bound by this legal magnifying glass. They are able to see the bigger picture sometimes."

He spoke of taking a difficult case where a child was severely injured at a day care that had no insurance. The family had massive hospital bills and Teel knew he would likely not be paid.

"Having young children, it was impossible to look those people in the eye and say 'No, I will not help because I don't think there's a payoff for me at the end of this.'"

Teel lost at trial, on appeal and on transfer but said he wouldn't have done it any differently.

nkelly@jg.net