New Lake juvenile judge to restore Gary court hearings

2013-12-04T14:12:00Z 2013-12-05T12:30:05Z New Lake juvenile judge to restore Gary court hearingsBill Dolan bill.dolan@nwi.com, (219) 662-5328 nwitimes.com
December 04, 2013 2:12 pm  • 

GARY | Lake County will reopen a courtroom in Gary next month, said Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson and Lake Superior Court Judge Thomas Stefaniak Jr.

They announced the Lake Juvenile Court will resume hearings at the county's Judge Robert Rucker Courthouse at Fourth and Broadway for parents trying resolve disputes about overdue child support.

Former Lake Juvenile Court Judge Mary Beth Bonaventura closed down the Gary venue a year ago in a consolidation that shifted all child support hearings to the Lake Juvenile Court facility in Crown Point, saying it would be cheaper for taxpayers to run one rather than two such venues simultaneously.

Lawyers for Gary, East Chicago and the NAACP sued on grounds the move created a hardship on north county residents who had limited transportation options to get to Crown Point for their hearings.

Lake County Commissioner Roosevelt Allen, D-Gary, joined the fray, saying the closure flew in the face of decisions to invest $3 million in recent years to renovate the Gary courthouse as well as the courtroom Bonaventura was leaving.

Before the court dispute was resolved, Bonaventura stepped down as juvenile judge to become Indiana Department of Child Services' director.

Stefaniak, who will move from lake criminal to lake juvenile court, said he worked with the mayor to restore faith in the judiciary among those who felt slighted by the Gary court's closure.

The mayor in a prepared news release said she knows "Mayor Anthony Copeland and the citizens of East Chicago and other north Lake County communities would join the citizens of Gary in their appreciation of the opportunity to attend hearings in the Gary Courthouse."

Stefaniak said he will assume full-time responsibilities at the Juvenile Court on Dec. 20 and his replacement, Highland attorney Samuel Cappas, will be sworn in as a new criminal court judge in the same ceremony.

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