Lake Superior judges, magistrates fail to reach deal over Juvenile Court vacancy

2013-05-08T16:19:00Z 2013-05-09T16:15:05Z Lake Superior judges, magistrates fail to reach deal over Juvenile Court vacancyMarisa Kwiatkowski marisa.kwiatkowski@nwi.com, (219) 662-5333 nwitimes.com

Lake Superior Court judges and magistrates were unable to reach a compromise in their legal squabble regarding how to fill the Lake Juvenile Court vacancy, court records filed Wednesday show.

Lake Juvenile Court Magistrates Glenn Commons, Jeffery Miller and Charlotte Peller sued in March to stop Lake Superior Court Judge Nicholas Schiralli from taking the position vacated by former Juvenile Judge Mary Beth Bonaventura.

Bonaventura left the bench to become the new director of the Indiana Department of Child Services.

Schiralli, who did not go through merit selection, had planned to transfer into the Lake Juvenile Court vacancy based on seniority — even though his move would violate a state law prohibiting the transfer of a judge who has not gone through merit selection.

Through merit selection, a Judicial Nominating Commission interviews applicants and chooses three finalists to present to the governor, who has final choice.

The magistrates argued Schiralli's move would harm their opportunity for career advancement and open the juvenile court to other legal challenges. The Lake Superior Court judges countered that the state law preventing Schiralli's transfer was "a legislative overreach," court records show.

The Superior Court judges voted to ignore the law.

After the magistrates' petition was filed, the Indiana Supreme Court named Senior Judge Thomas Webber Sr. to serve as the temporary Juvenile Court judge pending the outcome of the case. The high court also appointed retired Indiana Supreme Court Justice Frank Sullivan Jr. to act as mediator in the lawsuit.

Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Brent Dickson told The Times on Wednesday the justices appointed Sullivan because he was respected on both sides and was familiar with the "intricacies" of Lake County.

The state's high court hoped the Lake County-based judicial officers would reach an agreement through mediation without either side being proclaimed right or wrong in a way that also would "enhance public confidence" in the judiciary, he added.

"That didn't work, but that was the hope," Dickson said.

Because the Superior Court judges and Juvenile Court magistrates could not reach an agreement, Dickson said the Supreme Court will decided the case. He said he expects the court to issue an opinion within 60 days.

"We want to put this to rest so the position can be filled," he said.

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