Lake Superior Court Judge Nicholas Schiralli cannot transfer into the Lake Juvenile Court, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled Friday.
Schiralli had planned to transfer into the vacated Lake Juvenile Court position 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. Schiralli did not go through that process.
Lake Juvenile Court Magistrates Glenn Commons, Jeffery Miller and Charlotte Peller sued in March to stop Schiralli from shifting into the position vacated by former Juvenile Court Judge Mary Beth Bonaventura, who left the bench to become director of the Indiana Department of Child Services.
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."
In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court justices ruled that only merit-selected judges can transfer from one court to another in Lake County. They rejected the Lake Superior Court judges' arguments that the law prohibiting Schiralli's transfer is unconstitutional and that Lake County's local transfer rule trumps state law.
It was unclear Friday which, if any, of the merit-selected Superior Court judges would be interested in moving to the Lake County Juvenile Court. It would go to the merit-selected judge with the most seniority. Merit selection would be used to fill whichever judicial vacancy remains after the transfers are complete.
"The Supreme Court's decision today underscores the important state public policy behind the merit selection process as set out by our statute," Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller said in a statement. "Hopefully the unanimous decision by our five justices will help the Lake County courts quickly move past this conflict so that the important work of the Juvenile Court can move forward."
Chief Lake Superior Court Judge John Pera said he has not had time to speak with his colleagues to find out if any of the merit-selected judges would like to transfer to Juvenile Court. He said they will ensure any transition is "seamless."
He called the legal tangle between judges and magistrates a "bona fide dispute" that needed to be resolved by the Indiana Supreme Court.
"We honor and respect their decision in this case and will follow it," Pera said.
If none of the merit-selected judges is interested in transferring to Lake Juvenile Court, the position will be filled through merit selection. The Supreme Court said Schiralli could apply for the judgeship through the merit-selection process.
Schiralli could not be reached Friday for comment. Magistrate Commons declined to comment on the Supreme Court's decision.
Supreme Court spokeswoman Kathryn Dolan said Justice Robert Rucker, who is chair of the Lake County Judicial Nominating Commission, is "looking forward to meeting with the commission and establishing a timeline for filling a Lake County judicial vacancy."
In the meantime, Senior Judge Thomas Webber Sr. continues to serve as the temporary Juvenile Court judge.