Battle over court relocation postponed

2013-02-08T19:15:00Z 2013-02-09T10:59:03Z Battle over court relocation postponedBill Dolan bill.dolan@nwi.com, (219) 662-5328 nwitimes.com
February 08, 2013 7:15 pm  • 

CROWN POINT | A showdown over the Lake Juvenile Court judge's plans to move her child-support court staff from Gary to Crown Point has been postponed.

A hearing in a lawsuit filed in Lake Circuit Court to block the child-support staff move was postponed Friday because the Indiana attorney general's office wants a federal judge to hear the matter.

However, attorneys for the Lake County Board of Commissioners, East Chicago, Gary and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People have amended their litigation to exclude any federal jurisdiction in their dispute with the Juvenile Court in the hope it can be returned to Lake Circuit Court in Crown Point.

U.S. District Judge Philip Simon in Hammond ruled Friday that the amended suit appears ripe for return to state courts and he will do so next week unless someone can prove it should stay in federal court.

Lake County, Gary, East Chicago and NAACP lawyers want an injunction blocking Juvenile Court Judge Mary Beth Bonaventura's consolidation plan on grounds that moving court facilities 15 miles south of Gary would effectively deny access to thousands of north county residents who use the court but lack transportation to Crown Point, where it would relocate.

Bonaventura, who will resign at the end of the month to become director of the Indiana Department of Child Services, said last week that centralizing the court, which enforces child-support payments on which single parents rely, would make its operations more user-friendly for her staff and presents no difficulty for the public, who easily access the many other county courtrooms already in Crown Point.

Some Gary leaders are still stinging over Bonaventura's decision to move her juvenile court facilities to Crown Point a decade earlier. Bonaventura said her former venue in the Justice Robert D. Rucker Courthouse at Fourth Avenue and Broadway in Gary was in disrepair and didn't provide enough room for efficient court operations.

Bonaventura left her child-support staff in Gary after her $23 million Juvenile Justice Complex opened near 93rd Avenue and Chase Street in 2002, but she said last week it made more sense to consolidate it into her Crown Point location.

Court officials complain her decision flies in the face of their modernization of the Gary courthouse, where they have spent $3 million in the last five years, including $180,000 to renovate the courtroom Bonaventura is abandoning.

Some county officials have advocated consolidating all county government facilities in Crown Point to save county taxpayers millions of dollars now spent on staffing and maintaining them, but county commissioners representing the northern part of the county demand the satellite courthouses in Gary, East Chicago and Hammond remain open to service those communities.

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