Battle over relocation of child support court moves into next stage

2013-03-12T19:30:00Z 2013-03-12T21:39:12Z Battle over relocation of child support court moves into next stageSusan Brown, (219) 662-5325

CROWN POINT | In the next 10 days, attorneys will present their findings of fact in the battle over whether to relocate the Gary court that handles child support cases to Crown Point.

Eric Clark, attorney for the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, made the suggestion as an alternative to presenting closing arguments in the case, where testimony has continued for nearly three days. Attorneys Jefferson Garn and Wade Hornbacher, who represent outgoing Lake County Juvenile Court Judge Mary Beth Bonventura, agreed to that plan.

Officials from East Chicago and Gary and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People are suing Bonaventura over her move five weeks ago to close the Gary court and consolidate it with the Crown Point juvenile facilities to save money.

The plaintiffs are asking Lake Superior Judge George Paras to reverse the move on grounds it creates a hardship for low-income north county residents.

Other witnesses testified many summoned to the court find it difficult to travel to Crown Point because they don't have cars and must rely on the county's bare-bones public transit system.

On Tuesday, a young Gary woman, Davita Cooper, the mother of a 7-month-old infant, testified Bonventura's decision to relocate the child support court to Crown Point led to her losing her welfare benefits for missing her Feb. 12 court date, which was in Crown Point.

The woman told the court between losing her welfare benefits and having no child support, she has no money until her next court date April 9.

Because of the bus times, the soonest Cooper could make it to Crown Point was 9:30 a.m., one hour late for her 8:30 court hearing, she said.

Magistrate Katherine Garza countered Cooper's testimony by saying since the move Feb. 4, she had not heard one complaint raised about the commute.

Garza defended the move by saying the Crown Point location offered expanded parking at no cost, more waiting space for those attending hearings and more seating in court.

Garza testified she had not seen "any remarkable difference" between holding the court in Crown Point and Gary, where she served before the relocation.

Clark also challenged a defense effort to show transportation alternatives exist, such as those offered by Geminus Corp., a community outreach organization.

An official with Geminus testified her organization could provide rides to Gary, but testimony also showed the organization did not advertise the service on its website.

Both sides now have 10 days to prepare their statements of fact and present them to the judge.

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