Assistants sue their judicial bosses over Lake Juvenile Court succession

2013-03-20T14:39:00Z 2013-04-01T14:33:06Z Assistants sue their judicial bosses over Lake Juvenile Court successionBill Dolan, (219) 662-5328
March 20, 2013 2:39 pm  • 

CROWN POINT | Three Lake Juvenile Court magistrates are suing to stop Lake Superior Judge Nicholas Schiralli from becoming the next Lake County juvenile judge this month.

Magistrates Glenn Commons, Jeffery Miller and Charlotte Peller, who have been serving as judicial assistants for two decades, are asking the Indiana Supreme Court to give them the chance to apply for the job outgoing Lake Juvenile Judge Mary Beth Bonaventura leaves to become head of the Indiana Department of Child Services in Indianapolis.

Bonaventura said Sunday will be her last day as judge.

Kathryn Dolan, spokeswoman for the high court, said the Supreme Court clerk's office received a copy of an "original action" filed late Wednesday by "Glenn Commons et al," but the paperwork still was being processed and a public copy wasn't available.

The three magistrates, Bonaventura and Chief Superior Court Judge John Pera declined comment on the litigation. Schiralli didn't return calls seeking comment.

The Times obtained a copy of a Verified Emergency Petition for Writ of Mandamus and Prohibition naming all 16 Lake Superior Court judges and the Lake Circuit Court judge as defendants.

It asks the high court to block all sitting Lake judges from filling the juvenile court vacancy until the high court rules whether state law is being circumvented and the judgeship is being wrongfully usurped.

Lake is one of the few counties in the state where judges are picked through merit selection. A nine-member panel of lawyers and lay people interview applicants, narrow them to three finalists and forward their names to Gov. Mike Pence.

The governor then appoints the new judge, who would serve for about two years before voters chose whether to retain or replace the judicial appointee.

However, when Bonaventura announced her departure last month, the 15 other Superior Court judges met and decided they should be first in line to take over the juvenile court.

Bonaventura objected in a recent letter to the Indiana Supreme Court, stating merit selection is the only way to name her replacement.

Magistrates Commons, Miller and Peller are adopting her argument that the other sitting judges have exceeded their authority and harmed the magistrates' opportunity for career advancement and opened the juvenile court to other legal challenges.

The petition calls on the high court to name an interim juvenile judge to sit in Schiralli's place until the matter is resolved.

It is unclear who will act as counsel for the judges or pay the legal fees.

The juvenile court presides 30,000 cases of juvenile delinquency, investigations of child abuse and neglect and litigation involving child paternity and financial support. It has a $6 million budget and a staff of 169 that includes the juvenile detention center.

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