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Stefaniak to become new Lake County juvenile court judge

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Judge Thomas Stefaniak will take over the juvenile court in Lake County, ending a months-long dispute over the judgeship that involved the intervention of the Indiana Supreme Court.  

Court staff confirmed Stefaniak will move from Lake Superior Criminal Division 4 to fill a vacancy on the juvenile court created when Gov. Mike Pence selected Judge Mary Beth Bonaventura to lead the Department of Child Services.

Stefaniak said he intends to work jointly with adult probation and Lake County Community Corrections to re-establish a juvenile court presence in Gary that Bonaventura consolidated in recent years with court operations in Crown Point.

Plans are in the works to locate juvenile court programs including in-house detention, intensive probation and truancy intervention in Gary, Stefaniak said. A large number of users of those programs are in the northern end of Lake County. “We want to make it more accessible to them,” Stefaniak said.

“Judge Bonaventura had a very successful career over there and established a lot of good things,” he said. “My goal is to continue on with these successes and create some of our own.”

Lake County judges in February selected Civil Division Judge Nicholas Schiralli to fill the vacancy, leading to a lawsuit by juvenile court magistrates. The magistrates successfully petitioned the Indiana Supreme Court to block Schiralli’s transfer.

After mediation led by former Justice Frank Sullivan failed, the court ruled that Schiralli’s transfer could not be granted because he had not been appointed to the bench through merit selection.

Senior Judge Thomas W. Webber Sr. of Porter County was appointed by the court in March to serve as interim judge of the juvenile court. Stefaniak said it had not yet been determined when his transfer to the juvenile court will take effect.

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