Indiana Court of Appeals

Indiana Court of Appeals judges Melissa May, Margret Robb and Elizabeth Tavitas responding to student questions March 7, 2019 after hearing oral arguments in a case at Valparaiso High School. 

VALPARAISO — Indiana Appellate Court Judge Margret Robb said when she began as a lawyer, women were not allowed to wear pants in court.

"It was a male-dominated field," she said.

But times change, Robb said, and on Thursday afternoon she stood on the stage at the Valparaiso High School auditorium with two of the five other female members of the state's appellate court.

"There are more women," she said in response to a student's question about the experience of rising to the level of appellate court judge as a woman. "We are not novelties."

The three members of the state's second highest court heard oral arguments at the high school on a Lake County murder case as part of its Appeals on Wheels program aimed at helping Hoosiers learn about the judiciary's role in state government.

Attorneys for both sides argued on Nicholas Pelissier's appeal of his 2018 conviction and 85-year prison sentence for the 2016 shooting death of Jonquell Golida, 23, of Gary, and the shooting injuries to Timothy Fryerson.

Pelissier is arguing the Lake County court abused its discretion in admitting two prior recorded statements of a witness, who claimed at trial to not remember the events of the crime in question, according to the appellate court.

He is also challenging the local court's decision to allow a police lineup used by the same witness to identify Pelissier.

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Prosecutors responded that any error in admitting the evidence in question was harmless because it was "cumulative of other evidence supporting Pelissier's convictions," the court said.

Among the three judges hearing the arguments Thursday was Elizabeth Tavitas, a former Superior Court judge from Lake County.

Tavitas pointed out she and the other two female judges on the stage when responding to the student's question about women in the legal profession.

"We've been very fortunate in our careers to get to this level," she said.

When asked about the role of oral arguments in the court's work, Judge Melissa May said she and her peers read the written legal briefs ahead of time, but have not yet made up their minds when hearing the arguments directly from the attorneys.

"Really, a perfect oral argument is a conversation," Robb said. 

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Porter/LaPorte County Courts and Social Justice Reporter

Bob is a 23-year veteran of The Times. He covers county government and courts in Porter County, federal courts, police news and regional issues. He also created the Vegan in the Region blog, is an Indiana University grad and lifelong region resident.