CROWN POINT | A contest among Lake Superior Courts judges over who should take over the juvenile justice complex has gotten personal.
One of those judges has accused former Juvenile Court Judge Mary Beth Bonaventura of not only disrespecting fellow judges but also privately angling to put one of her favorites on the juvenile bench — in contradiction of her public call for the new Juvenile Court judge to be chosen by merit selection.
Superior Court Judge Jesse Villalpando penned that opinion in a March 13 letter he wrote to Chief Superior Court Judge John Pera, which was recently obtained by The Times. In it, Villalpando compliments Pera for how he represented him and other judges in opposing Bonaventura in a dispute over who should be the next Lake Juvenile judge.
Bonaventura, who left Juvenile Court and became director of the state Department of Child Services this week, declined to comment. Villalpando didn't return calls seeking comment.
Tempers began rising after Gov. Mike Pence named Bonaventura state DCS director Jan. 30 and the remaining 15 Superior Court judges said they would choose one of their own number to preside over the juvenile justice complex.
They chose Lake Superior Court Judge Nicholas Schiralli.
Bonaventura and three of her former judicial assistants asked the Indiana Supreme Court to block Schiralli from taking possession of Juvenile Court, arguing it would violate a state law requiring the job to be filled by merit selection where nine lawyers and lay people of the Lake County Judicial Nominating Commission pick the three most qualified applicants and the governor appoints one judge.
The other judges said that law was an unconstitutional intrusion on their court's judicial administration.
The Supreme Court agreed last week to decide who is right and temporarily stayed Schiralli's taking over Juvenile Court. The high court instead appointed Senior Judge Thomas W. Webber Sr. to serve as the temporary Juvenile Court judge.
Villalpando, writing two weeks ago before the high court entered the fray, states he expected to see Bonaventura "riding graciously into the sunset, accepting the well wishes of her colleagues in her next endeavor."
Instead, Villalpando was chagrined to find Bonaventura angling to name her own replacement by approaching Superior Court Judge John Sedia who had served as one of Bonaventura's judicial assistants from the mid-1990s until appointed a civil division judge in his own right last year.
Villalpando said it was only after Sedia declined the job that Bonaventura championed merit selection over letting Schiralli or other sitting judges transfer onto the Juvenile Court bench.
Villalpando recalls Bonaventura expressing an opinion that her fellow judges would be daunted by the challenges of her annual budget of $6 million and staff of 169, which dwarfs all other state courts in the area.
"Her parting shot to her colleagues, indicating that she cannot imagine any one of us being able to replace her as Juvenile Court judge, is Exhibit A: Arrogance," he writes.
Villalpando concludes, "I wish Bonaventura no ill fortune. I hope she can regain her footing and succeed in her new job. However, she needs to readjust her focus — she should be focused on her future and serving the needs of the children of Indiana."