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NWI Times on 08/15/2018 by Steve Garrison
Recently retired public defender planned to pursue passion for judiciary before fatal shooting, friends say
A prominent attorney remembered for his warmth, good humor and precise legal mind was expected to retire at month’s end to pursue his passion for the judiciary.
Instead, Tracy Edward Page was shot and killed Wednesday afternoon at his Hobart home. A former client is suspected in his killing.
The 64-year-old attorney was a stickler for details and a brilliant legal mind, who helped create the magistrate judge’s position when he was appointed as Lake County’s court commissioner* in the 1980s, according to friends and colleagues.
“He would use blue pens so you could later determine whether the (court) document was a copy or the original,” Lake County Superior Court Judge Julie Cantrell said. “I still use a blue pen today because of Ted.”
Page passed the Indiana Bar Examination in 1979. He began his career in the Lake County prosecutor’s office, where he worked for five years and specialized in white-collar crime.
He won the public theft conviction of former Lake County Coroner Albert T. Willardo in 1983 and assisted in the murder conviction of three family members in the killing of Paul Komyatti Sr. of Hammond.
Rich Wolter, former public defender for Lake County, said he prosecuted his first felony trials with Page, who helped him convict Moses Wilson of murder and attempted murder in 1981.
“Page went after that case with a vengeance and made sure no stone was unturned,” Wolter said.
Wolter said no attorney was better prepared for trial —Page had an encyclopedic memory.
Tom Vanes, a fellow defense attorney, said he had known Page for more than 40 years. They began their careers together in the Lake County prosecutor’s office in the late 1970s.
“I’m absolutely stunned by this,” Vanes said. “Ted had a larger than average impact on the criminal justice system. There are things done in criminal cases that are done that way because Ted did it that way.”
Scott King, a defense attorney who also met Page through the prosecutor’s office, said Page officiated his wedding. He said he was not as close with Page in recent years, but he remained a friend.
“He was a real decent human being,” King said.
In 1984, Page was named the county’s criminal court commissioner,* later called a magistrate judge.
Judge Clarence Murray said he first met Page when he was sitting on the bench and adjudicating post-conviction petitions.
“He was very much a stickler on detail,” Murray said. “He had a quick wit. He was very passionate about the law.”
Cantrell said Page wore a red robe, styled after English magistrates.
“He was brilliant,” she said. “He could drive you crazy, but you also had to love him.”
Page was ousted from the position in 2000 after the retirement of his mentor and chief supporter, Judge James Letsinger. The two men were at the time the only Republicans in the criminal system, The Times reported, and worked together on a number of court-related issues.
“His best qualities got in his way,” Wolter said. “He was making sure everybody followed the rules. That created some serious headwinds. People were arrayed against him for doing what he thought was right.”
Roy Dominguez, an attorney, said he believed Page was blackballed from several judicial appointments because of his sexual orientation – he was gay – and his political affiliation.
“He had applied to be a judge on several occasions, but when Democrats were in power, he was blocked because he was a Republican, and when Republicans were in office, he was blocked because he was gay,” Dominguez said.
Page was a judicial fellow for the National Judicial College in Reno, Nevada. He began teaching for the college in 1996, with courses ranging from constitutional criminal procedure to commercial driver’s license law. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, he taught three classes for judges in Jordan, Ukraine and China.
Joy Lyngar, provost for the judicial college, said Wednesday that Page taught more than 75 courses for the college, but only became a regular faculty member this year. She said he received high marks from his judicial peers around the country, not only for his legal expertise, but for his warmth and willingness to help students.
“He exemplified civility and integrity; his loss will reverberate in courtrooms around the nation,” she said.
Page continued to serve on the bench through the state’s senior judge program, which required him to travel across the state to sit in for vacant judges.
Magistrate Judge Kathleen Sullivan said Page hoped his recent retirement from the public defender’s office would allow him to work in Lake County.
“He was a brilliant man,” she said. “Sometimes that got him in trouble, but he was probably one of the smartest men I knew.”
Lake County Public Defender Marce Gonzalez Jr. said Page worked in his office for 10 years. Page filed his retirement letter Tuesday and his last day would have been Aug. 31.
“He was going to work until the end of the month, and then do something he loved – teach,” Gonzalez said. “He was retiring so he could concentrate on teaching and senior judging.”
Until recently, Page worked for the Thiros & Thiros law firm in Merrillville. He was also a member of the masonic lodge in Hobart.
Page was arrested Oct. 1, 2016, for drunken driving on Ind. 149 in the area of County Road 550 North. He pleaded guilty to operating a vehicle while intoxicated, a misdemeanor offense.
It earned him a reprimand from the Indiana Supreme Court, but the court noted Page self-reported the misconduct, cooperated with their investigation and expressed remorse.
Despite his death, Page’s words will continue to echo throughout the county’s magistrate courtrooms.
As the county’s first magistrate judge, Page wrote several of the legal scripts read to criminal defendants during initial court hearings, according to colleagues.
Those scripts, slightly altered, remain used today.
*Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated Page was the county’s first criminal court commissioner. He was the first magistrate judge.