CROWN POINT | The Lake Juvenile Court judge is moving her Gary-based child support court to Crown Point next week and reigniting a debate about the benefits of consolidating local government versus the cost of removing government facilities from the county's urban core.
Lake County Commissioner Roosevelt Allen, D-Gary, complained Tuesday the transfer will inconvenience thousands of north county residents who now will have to travel 20 additional miles to use it.
"That is very unfair," Allen said.
He represents Gary on the Lake County Board of Commissioners, which oversees the main county government complex in Crown Point and smaller satellite courthouses in Gary, Hammond and East Chicago.
Juvenile Court Judge Mary Beth Bonaventura said Tuesday that centralizing the court makes 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.
The court in question will close its Gary doors Friday and will resume hearings only in Crown Point.
It employs a judicial magistrate and three support staff, who enforce the payment of child support, primarily for low-income families. It is called IV-D court after the federal law encouraging states to pursue nonpaying parents.
Its transfer comes a decade after Bonaventura moved the bulk of her staff out of the Justice Robert D. Rucker county courthouse at Fourth Avenue and Broadway in Gary, complaining that building was in disrepair.
Gary and county officials so resisted that move, Bonaventura had to win a mandate forcing them to finance her $23 million Juvenile Justice Complex near 93rd Avenue and Chase Street, which opened in 2002.
Bonaventura kept her IV-D court in Gary, but a rise in child support cases required her to open a second IV-D court in Crown Point in 2010.
"As time has gone on, we have had a higher rate of appearance in the IV-D court in Crown Point than we do in the Gary court. But adding the second court has created confusion for some people, including lawyers, about which court they are supposed to be in, here or there," Bonaventura said.
Bonaventura said she will retain other staff in the Gary courthouse who conduct DNA testing for her court's paternity cases. She said no one is losing their jobs.
Allen questioned the move.
"I cannot imagine why she would remove the court from the citizens she serves," Allen said. "It's easier for the magistrate and three employees to drive to Gary than it is for thousands of people to get out here to Crown Point."
He said the county recently spent $3 million in the last five years modernizing the Gary courthouse, including $180,000 to renovate the courtroom Bonaventura is leaving.
County commissioners representing the northern part of the county want the satellite courthouses to remain open in spite of arguments that their closing would save county government millions annually in utilities and maintenance and the salaries of 80 employees working there.