Seniority rules among judges who may take juvenile court vacancy

2013-01-31T18:30:00Z 2013-02-01T08:22:04Z Seniority rules among judges who may take juvenile court vacancyBill Dolan bill.dolan@nwi.com, (219) 662-5328 nwitimes.com
January 31, 2013 6:30 pm  • 

CROWN POINT | One of about a dozen Lake Superior Court judges will be first in line to take over a juvenile court system any politician would consider one of the sweetest plums in Lake County's patronage empire.

There will be no campaign or popular election to replace Juvenile Court Judge Mary Beth Bonaventura, who has been named to lead the Indiana Department of Child Services.

Bonaventura leave behind a court with a $6 million budget and payroll of 169 detention officers, lawyers, probation officers, clerical personnel and judicial assistants.

State law and internal court rules dictate a select group of Lake County judges have what amounts to a right of first refusal for the job.

"When there is a judicial vacancy, nearly any Superior Court judge can move to that vacant position in order of their seniority," Chief Superior Court Judge John Pera said.

Senior Civil Division Judge Gerald Svetanoff, who has 31 years on the job, said he has no intention of changing. Sheila Moss, a county division judge since 1993, said she would give the job serious consideration.

Clarence Murray, a criminal division judge since 1999, Diane Kavadias-Schneider, a civil division judge since 2000, and Calvin Hawkins, a civil division judge since 2007, said they wouldn't rule out the job.

Kavadias-Schneider has served seven years as a juvenile court administrator and magistrate. She said she'd lean toward not considering it.

Criminal Court Judge Thomas Stefaniak declined to comment on the vacancy. Other Superior Court judges couldn't be reached for comment.

Bonaventura, whose resignation becomes effective next month, said she has no favorites among those who could replace her.

"I haven't talked to any of the other judges about it, but they all know it's a lot of work," she said. "You run the detention center, so basically you have to be the sheriff for kids."

Along with that, she's on several statewide boards and manages a large staff with 30,000 pending cases.

"It's a huge, huge job, and we all get paid the same. Why go from managing three people and come over here for the same amount of money?" Bonaventura said.

If no standing judge accepts the juvenile court position, the Lake County Judicial Nominating Commission -- a body of lawyers and residents -- would accept applications from any attorney living the county and narrow the field down to three finalists.

Gov. Mike Pence would name the new judge from those finalists.

Bonaventura, who went through the judicial nominating process in 1993, said politics plays a role, but not necessarily a dominant one. 

"You have got to get (political) support behind you," she said.

She went to Lake County Democratic Chairman Bob Pastrick to gain his support when she sought the job.

Despite the fact she was a Republican, she had 11 years of experience and stressed she was the best for the work. She also spoke with  then-Indiana Democratic Party Chairman Mike Pannos.

Eventually, Gov. Evan Bayh -- a Democrat --  selected her from among three finalists. 

"He liked my resume," she said.

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