RICH JAMES: Pope of Lake County's judiciary claims superiority

2013-03-18T00:00:00Z RICH JAMES: Pope of Lake County's judiciary claims superiorityBy Rich James nwitimes.com
March 18, 2013 12:00 am  • 

If you thought the Vatican was home to the greatest concentration of power in the world, you'd better think again.

And if you thought the Conclave of Cardinals had a corner on omnipotence, you would have been wrong a second time.

The 16 judges of the Lake Superior Court system, apparently, have a loftier presence than the rest.

And you might call Chief Judge John Pera the pope of the Lake Superior Court divisions. That, at least, is how things have unfolded the last couple of weeks.

At issue is filling the Lake Superior Court Juvenile Division judge vacancy. The vacancy was created by the appointment of Judge Mary Beth Bonaventura to become director of the Indiana Department of Child Services.

The Superior Court judges – except Bonaventura – contend the judge with the most seniority can automatically fill the vacancy if he or she so desires.

Judge Gerald Svetanoff is the most senior, but he declined the job. County Division Judge Nicholas Schiralli is next in line, and he anointed himself to replace Bonaventura.

But Bonaventura said allowing Schiralli to take the job is wrong for a number of reasons.

Most significantly, Bonaventura said state law prohibits a judge from transferring if he or she wasn't initially appointed to the bench through the merit selection system, which is the foundation of the Lake Superior Court system. Schiralli wasn't a product of merit selection.

As a result, Bonaventura has asked the Indiana Supreme Court to halt Schiralli’s transfer.

But Pope John and his minions beg to differ.

In a letter to Supreme Court Justice Robert Rucker, Pera asks the high court to ignore Bonaventura’s plea.

Pera argues the law requiring merit selection as a requisite for a transfer is “a legislative overreach into the exclusive province of the judiciary.”

That bears repeating. “The exclusive province of the judiciary” pretty much puts the Lake Superior Court system in some sort of nether world.

It gets better. Pera went on to say that the separation of powers prevents the Legislature from “meddling” in the judiciary.

In other words, even though the Lake Superior Court system was created by the Legislature, the courts don’t have to listen to their maker.

And furthermore, Pera called “unconstitutional” the law requiring merit selection as a requisite for transfer.

The pope has spoken, essentially saying the law is unconstitutional and the Supreme Court doesn't need to waste its time with the matter.

Other than the court’s air of arrogance, there is one thing that bothers me most about this issue.

Isn't upholding the law what being a judge is all about? Or maybe that applies only to the state’s 91 other counties.

Rich James has been writing about state and local government and politics for more than 30 years. Email him at rjames@219.com. The opinions are the writer’s.

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