CROWN POINT | The NAACP filed a petition Friday in the Lake Circuit Court for a temporary restraining order to prevent Lake Juvenile Court Judge Mary Beth Bonaventura from moving the Gary-based child support court to Crown Point.
“We are asking the court for an immediate temporary restraining order, a preliminary injunction and then a permanent injunction,” NAACP attorney Barbara Bolling said.
Plaintiffs in the petition include the NAACP, the cities of Gary and East Chicago along with two residents of Gary and Hammond who use the Gary-based court.
“We are alleging that to move the court would work a severe, if not irreparable, hardship on citizens from Gary, East Chicago, Hammond and Whiting because we do not have an extensive public transportation system that serves low-income or no-income residents,” Bolling said.
At the center of controversy is the Juvenile Court IV-D in the Justice Robert D. Rucker Courthouse in Gary.
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.
Earlier this week, Bonaventura said the Gary court would close its doors Friday and resume hearings only in Crown Point.
Bonaventura said Tuesday centralizing the court makes its operations more user-friendly for her staff and presents no difficulty for the public because area residents already access the many other Crown Point county courtrooms.
If those seeking child support or “defending against erroneous allegations” can’t get to the Lake County Government Center in Crown Point as summoned, Bolling said they could run the risk of being held in contempt of court.
Bonaventura could not be reached for comment Friday.
Lake County Prosecuting Attorney Bernard A. Carter announced Friday his child support office and child support employees will remain in the Gary courthouse.
The child support attorneys who work for the prosecutor’s office will also remain in Gary “and will continue to provide legal service in all the courts in Lake County,” said a news release.
In addition, the release said Lake County residents can rely on the services of his office for their child support needs. Those in need of child support services can visit Carter’s Gary office at 400 Broadway or call (219) 883-3333.
Lake County Commissioner Roosevelt Allen, D-Gary, said Friday the court’s transfer would force north Lake County residents to travel 30 to 35 miles to appear. Residents who live in East Chicago, Hammond and Gary are between approximately 15 and 20 miles from the Lake government center in Crown Point; a round trip between those cities and the government center would amount to between 30 and 40 miles.
He said the county spent $3 million in the last five years modernizing the Gary courthouse, including $180,000 to renovate the courtroom Bonaventura is leaving.