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CROWN POINT | Gov. Mike Pence on Wednesday chose Lake Juvenile Court Judge Mary Beth Bonaventura to lead the Indiana Department of Child Services.

"Judge Bonaventura is uniquely qualified to ... protect Hoosier children from abuse and neglect. She is a strong leader who has an impeccable reputation of integrity and compassion for children," Pence said in a news conference in Indianapolis.

"She brings a wealth of knowledge and experience ... as senior judge of the Lake Superior Court, Juvenile Division — one of the toughest juvenile court systems in the state," he said.

"I can't tell you how honored I am to be here today," Bonaventura said.

"Somebody much smarter than me told me once that children only make up 20 percent of our population, but they make up 100 percent of our future. Wow, what a job to be able to take over," Bonaventura said. "I thank the governor for reaching out and wanting me to be that person (to lead DCS). I feel blessed, and I hope that I will serve the people of Indiana the way that I think I've served the people of Lake County."

DCS has been in turmoil for months following media accounts of its failure to prevent child deaths by abusive parents.

Former Director Judge James Payne quit in September over allegations he improperly intervened in a DCS neglect case involving his grandchildren.

Bonaventura, a lifelong Lake County resident, was born in East Chicago and graduated from Bishop Noll Institute in Hammond. She received her undergraduate degree from Marian University in Indianapolis and her juris doctorate degree from Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, Ill.

She has served in the Lake Superior Court, Juvenile Division, since 1982, first as a referee and later as a magistrate. Former Gov. Evan Bayh appointed her Juvenile Court judge in 1993, and voters have retained her by wide margins under Lake County's nonpartisan judicial selection system.

As juvenile judge, she administered a court system and detention center with a staff of 169. The detention center can house up to 146 children determined to be a danger either to themselves or the public.

She has overseen a court responsible for adjudicating charges of criminal behaviors by children too young to be judged by adult courts, as well as providing care for neglected children, and establishing paternity in child support cases.

Her court was featured on national television in the 2007 MTV show "Juvies" and the 2009 MSNBC documentary "Lake County Juvenile Justice."

Bonaventura said she has always loved her job as juvenile judge and hopes she loves her new job as much. She said she was devastated to leave a job she so "blessedly and luckily had for 31 years" of her life, but that she hopes to apply to her new post the methods and skills she learned while serving as a Lake County judge.

DCS has 3,048 employees, including more than 1,600 family case managers, and a $550 million budget. Pence has called for that to go up by $35 million over the next two years.

Bonaventura said her son died Nov. 16 and she at first thought she would "go somewhere and sit in the corner and lick my wounds." But she thought he would be disappointed in her if she had done that "because he would know that I have so much more to do in my life."

Bonaventura's DCS start date is March 1. She plans to retire from her court and shut down her work there over the next month. She will live in the Indianapolis area. Her husband, Keith Medved, will continue living in the region.

Times staff writer Marisa Kwiatkowski contributed to this report.


Lake County reporter

Bill has reported in Lake County since 1972 after graduating from Indiana University. He has worked for The Times since 1997, covering the courts and local government during much of his tenure. Born and raised in New Albany, Ind., he is a native Hoosier.