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Child support court will return to Gary early next year

Judge Thomas Stefaniak | Sun-Times Media

Judge Thomas Stefaniak | Sun-Times Media

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Updated: January 6, 2014 1:06PM

Lake County Juvenile Court child support hearings will return to Gary in February 2014 as a result of an agreement between Lake County Superior Court Judge Thomas Stefaniak and Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson.

On Dec. 20, Stefaniak will succeed Senior Judge Thomas Webber Sr., who’s been running Lake Juvenile Court on an interim basis. He said several logistical issues need to be resolved, so the Gary courtroom will likely reopen on Feb. 3.

The court handles disputes about child support payments. The agreement likely settles litigation surrounding the move, which former Juvenile Court Judge Mary Beth Bonaventura had announced in February. The agreement was the result of a collaborative effort involving Lake County Commissioner Roosevelt Allen, Lake County Clerk Michael Brown, Lake County Prosecutor Bernard Carter, and Lake County Council members Elsie Franklin and Jerome Prince.

Bonaventura, now the director of the Indiana Department of Child Services, said at the time of the move to Crown Point that consolidating the services in Crown Point would result in cost savings.

The cities of Gary and East Chicago and the NAACP filed suit to block the move, alleging transportation difficulties and other issues. On April 3, Lake Circuit Judge George Paras agreed the child support hearings must move back to Gary and set a 30-day deadline for that to happen. However, his authority to order the move was questioned.

While Stefaniak understands the factors that led to the move, he said the resolution ensures access to justice for northern Lake County residents.

“I like Judge Bonaventura immensely and she made the decision for good reasons,” Stefaniak said. “But one of the consequences is that all of the litigants are coming to Crown Point, which is creating parking issues. I talked with one of the witnesses from the case and he talked about the logistical nightmare of public transportation in this area.”

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