INDIANAPOLIS — The state's appellate judges and justices, along with a good portion of Lake County's judiciary, on Monday celebrated Judge Elizabeth Tavitas' elevation to the Indiana Court of Appeals.
In a robing ceremony that seemed at times part-tribute and part-roast, the colleagues, friends and family of the former Lake Superior Court judge recalled her journey to the bench, her unceasing work ethic, commitment to serving others, love of dogs and her tendency to shout during Notre Dame football games.
"I may be a bit biased, but she absolutely is the smartest person I know," said Nathan Hansen, Tavitas' son.
"She has the innate ability to assess a situation, ask the right questions and come to a reasoned conclusion; of course, all essential characteristics in an appellate judge."
Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb in July appointed Tavitas to fill a retirement vacancy on Indiana's second-highest court following a months-long application and review process overseen by the state's Judicial Nominating Commission.
The 56-year-old Mishawaka native earned her bachelor's and law degrees at the University of Notre Dame, and worked in Lake County as a deputy prosecutor, in the public defender's office, in private practice and as a juvenile court referee prior to being appointed judge in 2006 by Republican former Gov. Mitch Daniels.
Indiana Court of Appeals Chief Judge Nancy Vaidik, a Porter County native, said Tavitas got right to work during the six weeks in her new post, already writing seven rulings on behalf of the court's three-judge panels, voting in 27 more and signing up to participate in nine traveling oral-argument sessions.
"Judge Tavitas is a true public servant. She gets the service aspect of this," Holcomb said. "Her reputation for fairness is matched only by her deep understanding of the Constitution and of the rule of law.
"She is the exact right person at the right time that Indiana needs on the Court of Appeals, and I have the utmost faith and confidence that she will serve with distinction for years and years to come."
Indiana Chief Justice Loretta Rush, who lived in Munster as a child, ceremonially administered the oath of office to Tavitas before Hansen and her daughters, Catherine and Christiann Tavitas, formally zipped their mother into her long, black judicial robe.
"This really is a dream come true for me," Tavitas said. "I really have the best job in the world. I'm so happy to serve on the Court of Appeals."
Tavitas initially is serving a two-year term on the 15-judge court. Hoosier voters in the northern third of the state will decide in 2020 whether to retain her on the appellate bench for a renewable 10-year term.