Lake Superior Court judges opt out of filling vacancy

2013-06-07T20:45:00Z 2013-06-07T21:46:11Z Lake Superior Court judges opt out of filling vacancySusan Brown, (219) 662-5325

CROWN POINT | No eligible Lake Superior Court judge has elected to transfer to the Criminal Court bench held by Judge Thomas Stefaniak Jr., who will move to the Juvenile Court bench.

Stefaniak last week announced he will replace former Juvenile Court Judge Mary Beth Bonaventura, whom Gov. Mike Pence named director of the Indiana Department of Child Services in March.

The Juvenile Court seat had been mired in controversy until the Indiana Supreme Court barred in May the transfer of Judge Nicholas Schiralli, who had not gone through merit selection.

The high court's decision also in effect barred the eligibility of Judges Julie Cantrell and Jesse Villalpando, leaving the field open to the 11 remaining Lake Superior Court judges.

One civil division judge took himself out of the running early in the weeklong period set by Judge John Pera, chief judge of Lake Superior Court, for judges to express their interest to transfer. The deadline was 4 p.m. Friday.

"I love being in the Harbor," East Chicago Judge Calvin Hawkins said.

Hawkins said he never envisioned himself in anything but the civil arena, where his interests and abilities lay.

"I have no desire to be anything else," he said.

Pera said the selection will now go to the Lake County Judicial Nominating Commission, a bipartisan group of lawyers and lay people.

Chaired by Indiana Supreme Court Justice Robert Rucker, a Gary native, the commission will interview applicants and name three nominees, one of whom the governor will appoint to fill the vacancy.

Pera said Stefaniak will take over the Juvenile Court bench after the new Criminal Court judge is selected, currently anticipated sometime later this year.

Senior Judge Thomas Webber will continue to serve as interim Juvenile Court judge until that time, Pera said. Webber frequently has served as senior judge in Lake County.

"He is doing an excellent job," Pera said, commending Webber as a valuable asset to the county, the judiciary and the public.

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