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Attorneys grill judge over plan to move Lake County court

Updated: April 10, 2013 6:10AM



CROWN POINT — Retiring Lake County Juvenile Court Judge Mary Beth Bonaventura shed her robe and sat on the witness stand Friday, spending nearly three hours in Lake Circuit Court defending her decision to move the IV-D court from Gary to the Juvenile Justice Complex here in February.

The hearing will resume Monday afternoon.

Four lawyers, representing Gary, East Chicago, the Lake County Board of Commissioners and the NAACP, filed a temporary restraining order Feb. 1, three days before the move, to keep Bonaventura and Lake Superior Court Judge John Pera from moving the IV-D court, which handles child support and other matters relating to paternity.

One attorney, Bessie Davis, representing Gary, said the plaintiffs are trying to protect the community.

“We don’t want to hurt (Bonaventura), we want to protect the people,” Davis said after the hearing. “Many of the citizens of north county don’t have access (to courts in Crown Point), nor transportation, nor access to transportation.”

Bonaventura, who is being represented by the Indiana Attorney General’s Civil Division, said she decided to move the court because of the logistical and personnel problems arising from hearing the cases in separate courts.

The judge said litigants’ cases were being delayed by continuances because hearing officers were not always available to hear them or other staff members were unavailable to work the cases.

“Did you consider the harm to people and litigants of Gary, East Chicago, Hammond, Whiting and Lake Station?” Davis asked Bonaventura midway through the hearing.

“No, I did not,” the judge responded, her comments cut short by Davis.

Bonaventura later added, “The harm is to the litigants who won’t have their cases heard if I don’t have a hearing officer to send to Gary.”

Bonaventura said the juvenile division’s clerk’s office sent notices to litigants of the move before it happened. Moving the court back to Gary would virtually “shut the court down” with trying to reach litigants and reschedule hearings.

Bonaventura also said budgetary woes forced her to cut 17 employees over the last three years, another reason to consolidate the largely federally funded IV-D courts in Crown Point.

Attorneys Eric Oden Clark and Macarthur Drake are representing private litigants suing Bonaventura and Lake Superior Court Chief Judge John Pera in the case, while Barbara Bolling is representing Gary and East Chicago.



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