HAMMOND | Merrilee Frey said Friday she is prepared to step forward as the next Lake County coroner in the wake of Thomas Philpot's conviction of theft of federal funds.
Friday's guilty verdict automatically strips Philpot of his office.
Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr., chairman of the Lake County Democratic Party, said he will begin Monday the process of gathering the county's precinct committeemen to pick a new coroner to serve the remaining months of Philpot's unexpired term.
"Tonight, my heart is heavy and my prayers go out to Dr. Philpot's family. Should I be asked to serve, I am prepared to be the next county coroner," Frey said.
Frey, 49, of Crown Point, won the Democratic nomination last spring to run this fall for a four-year term of coroner that would begin in 2014. She defeated four other candidates, including a physician, dentist and chiropractor, by a more than 5,000-vote margin.
She has been a forensic nurse who has headed the Lake Circuit Court's domestic relations services for more than a decade.
McDermott said he intends to rally the Democratic Party to support Frey. "She is the nominee. We can have her serving as coroner and she can run in November as the coroner-elect," he said.
She is opposed by Republican Andy Koultourides, a 49-year-old Munster town councilman and dentist with offices in Munster and Merrillville.
While they face off Nov. 6, Philpot must look forward to sentencing later this year that could include significant prison time. A felony conviction likely will have an affect on his professional licenses to practice as a lawyer or podiatrist.