Seven of eight applicants are female; three are Black women

We’re now able to tell you about the eight applicants for the Indiana Court of Appeals District 4 vacancy that will be created by the retirement of Judge Patricia A. Riley – the sole remaining appellate judge appointed by then-Gov. Evan Bayh (D) (in January 1994).

But what’s even more interesting is that the seven ultimately unsuccessful applicants will be able to get a second bite at the apple within a few months – one that may be more attractive than the Riley vacancy.

We told you late last year to expect at least one more judge appointed by a Democratic governor to retire before the election, and Judge Terry A. Crone will also be stepping down later this year from his District 3 post. Judge Crone was appointed to the appellate bench in 2004 by then-Gov. Joe Kernan (D), and is the final remaining appellate judge appointed by Indiana’s most recent Democratic governor (though four intermediate appellate court judges appointed by then-Gov. Frank O’Bannon (D) remain on the bench).

In case you’re confused by our note that there will be two openings for the Court of Appeals from the same region, allow us to walk you through this geographic anomaly.

Though judges Riley and Crone represent different districts, the vacancies coincidentally come from the same area of the state – (very) roughly the northern one-quarter of Indiana.

There are 20 counties in Northern Indiana that comprise District 3 of the Court of Appeals. Judge Crone represents District 3, and thus his replacement will be selected from that area. Judge Riley is the District 4 representative. That district is a statewide district which spans three regions. Judge Riley’s area of representation is also the northern region (District 3). That means qualified attorneys who reside in District 3 are called upon to apply.

The big difference: The District 4 selection (the Riley replacement) will be required to stand for retention statewide, while the District 3 selection (the Crone successor) must only face voters in the District 3 northern region.

Applicants were informed this month by the Judicial Nominating Commission that it “will consider your application for both vacancies, and there is no need to submit an additional application. They can, however, “choose to opt out from consideration on the second vacancy,” and applications will be opened to other qualified attorneys from the District 3 northern region who might have decided against seeking the Riley seat on the court.

Now that we’ve gotten the explanation for the geographically challenged out of the way, here’s your quick rundown on the applicants for the District 4 replacement . . . a field that includes seven women among the eight hopefuls, as well as three Black women, two of whom are current trial judges (13 of the 15 current Court of Appeals judges came to the bench with experience as trial court judges). Some in the current field were elevated to the trial bench by Governor Eric Holcomb (R), who will also be responsible for the appellate appointment

As best as we could determine, the only recidivist on the list of applicants is LaPorte County Superior Court Judge Jaime Oss of LaPorte. In 2018 she applied for a vacancy on the Court of Appeals and was invited back after the first cut. She has also applied for the past three vacancies on the Supreme Court.

In 2016 and 2017, Oss, not yet a judge, was among the applicants, and her 2022 application came following her first election to the bench in 2020, when she defeated a long-time Democratic incumbent after 17 years of practice at her father’s law firm (where she started before law school at the Valparaiso University Law School as a receptionist and legal secretary), ultimately becoming managing partner. Oss, a past president of the LaPorte County Bar Association and the Women Lawyers Association of Indiana, was identified with the local defense bar.

Judge Mary A. DeBoer of the Porter County Circuit Court No. 1 and a Valparaiso resident, also has applied. She assumed office on December 31, 2019, appointed by Governor Holcomb. She graduated from Valparaiso University Law School in 1993. As an attorney, she primarily practiced as a deputy prosecutor for 13 years where she handled cases ranging from infractions up to serious felonies and murders. She also worked with her husband in civil litigation matters at different points throughout her career in the legal field. She is known locally for having created a Domestic Relations Mediation Clinic for parties who could not afford attorneys, and for receiving a $50,000 grant to begin a guardianship program for incapacitated adults who need care but have no one to provide it.

Wendy W. Davis of Fort Wayne presided over the Allen County Superior Court Criminal Division from 2011-2020 before moving to the Allen County Circuit Court in 2020, the first woman to sit on that bench. Prior to that, the Valparaiso University Law School alum handled federal civil litigation at a Fort Wayne firm and was a part-time deputy prosecutor. She also has experience as an assistant district attorney in Texas. Davis stepped down from the bench in 2023 to pursue the open CD 03 nomination, and finished third in a competitive Republican primary race, fewer than five percentage points from a win over a former House member in a race in which five candidates tallied at least 10 percent. The campaign, however, was bruising, and

she was not shy about sharing her policy preferences with voters, which could put her at a disadvantage for this nod despite the strong positive reputation in the legal community that she brought to the race.

Lake County Superior Court Criminal Division 3 Judge Gina L. Jones of Crown Point is also in the mix. Judge Jones formerly served in Civil Division 6, tapped by Governor Holcomb, who will also make the appellate appointment. before that, she served eight years as judge of the Merrillville Town Court. She previously served in the Lake County Prosecutor’s Office as executive director of the child support division from 2003 through 2010. Jones, a native of Gary, earned her law degree from Valparaiso University Law School. Judge Jones is secretary of the Judges and Lawyers Assistance Program, and would be the only Black female appellate judge if appointed.

Anna Mandula of Crown Point, a partner in the Northwest Indiana office of Lewis Brisbois, is among the applicants. The Valparaiso University Law School alum defends personal injury claims, including defense of health care providers in medical malpractice matters. In addition to her litigation practice, Mandula has experience consulting with major hospitals and healthcare facilities in Northwest Indiana on both corporate and risk management matters.

Lake County Superior Court Civil Division 5 Judge Stephen Scheele of Schererville was appointed to that post by Gov. Holcomb (who will ultimately issue the appellate appointment) in 2021. Gov. Eric Holcomb appointed Stephen Scheele to the Lake County Superior Court to succeed Judge William Davis who retired in April. Before that, Judge Scheele served five years as a magistrate judge in Lake County Circuit Court. Scheele handled criminal defense cases in Lake County and federal courts in his private practice after earning his law degree from the Indiana University Maurer School of Law. He also served on the Indiana Political Subdivision Risk Management Commission. Judge Scheele is perhaps best known for his ruling that a 2017 Gary “sanctuary city” ordinance that, among other things, prohibited local police from cooperating with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainers and removal orders, violated state and federal law.

St. Joseph County Superior Court Judge Stephanie E. Steele of Granger was elevated to the bench by Gov. Holcomb in 2021, leaving her post as South Bend city attorney to become the first Black woman to hold a position on the superior court. Judge Steele earned her law degree from Arizona State University’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law. Steele served as a deputy county prosecutor from 2010 to 2015. Judge Steele was also appointed by the Indiana Supreme Court to serve as one of 10 commercial court judges.

Apryl Elizabeth Underwood of Fort Wayne is an associate in the Fort Wayne office of Barnes & Thornburg LLP. A litigator with trial experience defending multinational companies and governmental entities in a broad range of commercial, personal injury, and product liability matters, including multidistrict litigations, coordinated proceedings, and cases in federal and state courts nationwide, she also unsuccessfully sought a seat on the Allen County Council four years ago. Underwood earned her J.D. from the University of Wisconsin Law, an MPA. from the IUPUI School of Public and Environmental Affairs, and an M.S. from the Indiana University School of Medicine in 2005. If selected, she would become the only Black female on the intermediate appellate bench.