The Indiana Supreme Court now has a lawsuit, rather than letters, to consider in deciding whether the next Lake Juvenile Court judge should be chosen by merit selection, as the law requires, or by transfer, as Lake County's judges hope. The high court must choose to follow the law.
Juvenile Court magistrates Glenn Commons, Jeffery Miller and Charlotte Peller want the Supreme Court to give them a fair shot at the job being vacated by Lake Juvenile Court Judge Mary Beth Bonaventura.
Gov Mike Pence named Bonaventura the next director of the Indiana Department of Child Services. Bonaventura said Sunday will be her last day as judge.
The lawsuit filed by the three magistrates names all 16 Lake Superior Court judges and the Lake Circuit Court judge as defendants. The magistrates want the Supreme Court to prevent any of those judges from filling the vacant judgeship until the high court determines whether the state law requiring merit selection is being ignored.
This ought to be an easy decision. State law requires the position be filled through merit selection.
Yet Lake Superior Court Judge Nicholas Schiralli, who ranks second in seniority, intends to transfer to the juvenile court bench, with the blessing of his Lake Superior Court colleagues. Schiralli was elected, rather than appointed through the merit selection process.
State law has since been changed to require that judges in Schiralli's division be chosen through merit selection as vacancies occur.
If Schiralli becomes Lake Juvenile Court judge, he will swear to uphold all of the laws of the state of Indiana. How can he do so when, by law, that office must be filled by merit selection?
The magistrates' lawsuit asks that an interim judge be named until the lawsuit is settled. That's a reasonable response. There is much work to be done in the court, which presides over 30,000 cases a year and has a staff of 169, including the juvenile detention center.
Ultimately, though, the Supreme Court must uphold the use of the merit selection process to fill this vacancy. State law must be followed by judges no less than private citizens.