Juvie judge not a fan of the way her replacement is picked
By Michael GOnzalez Post-Tribune correspondent March 15, 2013 11:20AM
Updated: April 17, 2013 6:07AM
CROWN POINT — Retiring Lake County Superior Court Judge Mary Beth Bonaventura, head of the juvenile division, said she will leave office by late next week, but, along with some backing from the governor, she remained opposed to the way her replacement was made.
Lake Superior Court Chief Judge John Pera backed a colleague’s move to replace Bonaventura, but he refused to comment on a letter he sent to the Indiana State Supreme Court.
“I have concerns about the process,” Bonaventura said about Lake Superior Court Judge Nicholas Schiralli’s move to replace her using his seniority as a judge.
Schiralli, sitting in the county division since the 1970s, was not selected by an Indiana governor using the merit selection process. Instead, he was elected and faces retention votes.
“I like Judge Schiralli as a person and friend, and he’s a qualified judge, but I think there are people in this county who should be able to apply (for the juvenile judge post) who’ve dedicated their lives and careers to helping children.”
Last month, Bonaventura announced she would retire after 31 years as a juvenile magistrate and judge to become the next director of the Indiana Department of Child Services, after being appointed to the high-profile spot by Gov. Mike Pence.
Schiralli notified his colleagues he planned to transfer to Bonaventura’s seat. Shortly afterward, Bonaventura announced she would delay her retirement claiming she had more work to do before leaving the juvenile division.
Since 2000, Lake County judges who have gone through the merit selection process have been able to transfer to open judicial spots using their seniority. According to a section of Indiana Code, judges who were not selected using the process are not eligible to be reassigned, rotated or transferred to an open position.
According to one judge, who spoke to the Post-Tribune on condition of anonymity, the Superior Court judges voted to support Schiralli’s transfer, despite the Indiana code, claiming there was a body of precedents to support such a move.
In early March, Bonaventura asked Indiana State Supreme Court Chief Justice Dickson to order her replacement be selected using the merit selection process, effectively ruling Schiralli out of the top spot.
Pera responded this week to each of Bonaventura’s positions, calling the state law that blocks a judge who was not selected through the merit selection process, “unconstitutional” and a legislative overreach.
In her two decades of leading the juvenile division, Bonaventura oversaw the building of a new Juvenile Justice Complex, including a detention center with 148 beds, in Crown Point, built a staff of 197 workers and managed 30,000 pending cases and a $6 million budget.
She also remained active, hearing cases three days a week and handling administrative matters the other two days.
“You shouldn’t learn this on the job,” Bonaventura said. “We work in an emergency room environment. The judge runs the jail for kids.”
Earlier this week, Pence said he agreed with Bonaventura’s position the next juvenile court judge should come from the merit selection process. The Lake County Judicial Nominating Commission would take applications, conduct interviews and provide three names to Pence for selection.