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HAMMOND — A town judge, a judicial magistrate and a deputy prosecutor are the three finalists for Lake Superior Court, County Division 4.

Lake County Judicial Nominating Commission announced Tuesday afternoon that after interviewing 19 judicial applicants over two days this week, they are selecting: Lake County Deputy Prosecutor Aleksandra Dimitrijevic, Merrillville Town Judge Gina Jones and Superior Court Magistrate Michael Pagano.

Dimitrijevic has been a deputy prosecutor for almost a decade and currently is a supervisor in that office. Jones has presided over Merrillville's town court since 2010. Pagano has been a judicial assistant in Judge Julie Cantrell's Superior Court since 2003.

Their names will be sent to Gov. Eric Holcomb, who has 60 days to appoint a judge from among them.

While most Indiana judges are nominated by political parties and popularly elected, Lake County has operated under a judicial merit selection system since 1973. It's 16 Superior Court judges are nominated by the commission, a mix of lawyers and lay members of both political parties.

The new judge will replace Superior Court, County Division Judge Jesse Villalpando, 58, who served on the bench since 2000. Villalpando abandoned his plans to run for a new six-year term and announced retirement after the Indiana Office of Judicial Administration asked the Indiana Supreme Court to replace Villalpando.

Villalpando faced accusations he wrongly refused to process more than 50 criminal cases the prosecutor's office wanted filed in his court in May, made injudicious statements about fellow judges and unsubstantiated claims that he was the victim of conspiracies.

The Supreme Court named Crown Point attorney Steven A. Tyler in late September to preside as a stand-in judge over the court in Hammond, which decides minor criminal and civil matters. He will serve until the governor names the permanent judge.

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Lake County Reporter

Bill has reported in Lake County since 1972 after graduating from Indiana University. He has worked for The Times since 1997, covering the courts and local government during much of his tenure. Born and raised in New Albany, Ind., he is a native Hoosier.