Chief judge to respond to call for merit selection to replace Bonaventura

2013-03-09T21:30:00Z Chief judge to respond to call for merit selection to replace BonaventuraMarisa Kwiatkowski, (219) 662-5333

Chief Judge John Pera said he is preparing a written response to Lake Juvenile Court Judge Mary Beth Bonaventura's letters seeking intervention from the Indiana Supreme Court.

Bonaventura, who is leaving the bench to become director of the Indiana Department of Child Services, wrote letters asking the Supreme Court justices to require her replacement be chosen through merit selection rather than a transfer, letters obtained by The Times show.

Last month a Lake Superior Court memo indicated Judge Nicholas Schiralli would take over the juvenile division based on seniority. Judge Gerald Svetanoff, the longest-serving judge in Superior Court, had first choice but declined the job. Schiralli, who was next in line, accepted it.

Bonaventura argues Schiralli's move to juvenile court would violate a Lake County-based rule and a number of Indiana laws, including one that states a judge who has not been appointed through merit selection is ineligible to transfer, according to her letter dated Feb. 25.

Through merit selection, a Judicial Nominating Commission interviews applicants and chooses three finalists to present to the governor, who has final choice. Proponents of merit selection believe the process emphasizes judicial competence over political influence.

Bonaventura was appointed to the bench through merit selection.

"I believe that the merit selection process is not only the statutorily appropriate method, but the only method that will ensure efficient, effective and judicially sound operation of the juvenile court for the benefit of Lake County's children," she wrote in her Feb. 25 letter to the Supreme Court.

The Lake Juvenile Court judge manages a $6 million budget and staff of 169 that includes several judicial assistants and a juvenile detention center. The court handles about 30,000 cases of juvenile delinquency, investigations of child abuse and neglect and litigation involving child paternity and financial support.

Bonaventura previously told The Times that her letters question the process, not the abilities of the person who would fill her position. She said she will comply with the Supreme Court's decision on her request and will ensure there is a smooth transition before she leaves.

Chief Judge Pera said he plans to file a written response to the Indiana Supreme Court sometime next week. He declined further comment.

Judge Schiralli could not be reached Saturday.

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