INDIANAPOLIS | Lake Superior Judge Elizabeth Tavitas will participate this week in a 20-minute interview that could change her life and the history of Indiana.
The 50-year-old Munster resident is one of 22 applicants for an upcoming vacancy on the Indiana Supreme Court. On Wednesday, Tavitas will explain to the Indiana Judicial Nominating Commission, headed by Chief Justice Brent Dickson, a Hobart native, why the panel should recommend her to Gov. Mitch Daniels for appointment to the state's high court.
Tavitas certainly has sufficient legal experience. Daniels appointed the 1990 Notre Dame Law School graduate to the Lake County bench in 2006.
As a Gary-based civil judge, Tavitas presides over myriad family law matters, including divorce, child custody, parenting time, child support and related legal issues. She's also acted as a special judge for cases involving tort claims, medical malpractice, contract disputes and other complex litigation.
Tavitas handled 2,689 cases in 2011 while working with with two magistrates and managing a staff of nine.
Prior to her judicial appointment, Tavitas worked in private practice and later served eight years as a Lake juvenile court referee where she oversaw more than 1,200 parental rights-termination cases between 1998 and 2003.
"Each case is significant in that each involves the termination of a fundamental human right and required proof by clear and convincing evidence," Tavitas said in her court application. "The facts of these cases were often heart-breaking and emotionally taxing."
Tavitas said she brings the same style of careful evaluation to the child custody cases she now rules on as a judge.
"Each custody case requires utmost attention and consideration when deciding the best interest of the child regarding which parent should have custody," she said.
Her judicial temperament has not gone unnoticed by peers. Renee Mortimer, an attorney with Schererville's Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP, told the nominating commission in a letter that Tavitas would make a fine Supreme Court justice.
"Beth Tavitas is the standard to which I hold myself. She is gracious, but deliberate, in her views. She is extremely intelligent and hardworking, but never condescending," Mortimer said. "Most importantly, she is fair to everyone, without exception."
In her free time, Tavitas said she enjoys attending sporting events at Munster High School and football games at Notre Dame, participating in Zumba, photography and pottery classes, attending concerts at Chicago's Millennium Park and walking her new puppy.
Tavitas has three children: Nathan, a Schererville attorney; Christiann, a 2012 Munster High School graduate who will attend Notre Dame in the fall; and Catherine, a Munster High School sophomore.
Following a second round of interviews in August, the nominating commission will recommend three Supreme Court candidates to the Republican governor. Daniels will appoint one of the three to replace Justice Frank Sullivan Jr., who is leaving the court after 19 years to teach law at Indiana University.
Tavitas is among 16 female applicants for the vacancy. Indiana's five-member Supreme Court is one of only three in the nation without a female justice.