Although an appeal is pending in the Indiana Court of Appeals, the child support court that had been consolidated to Crown Point in early 2013 is moving back to Gary.
The IV-D Child Support Court in Gary was relocated by former Lake County Juvenile Judge Mary Beth Bonaventura. Following Bonaventura’s decision, a complaint against the move was filed in Lake Circuit Court by several interested parties including Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson.
Judge Thomas Stefaniak Jr. said the consolidation created an access to justice problem. Residents of Gary, East Chicago and Hammond who do not own a car would have a difficult time finding transportation to Crown Point.
“I have the highest respect for Judge Bonaventura,” Stefaniak said. “I can see why she did that. I don’t criticize her reasons. I just hold a different opinion.”
Also, he said, a courtroom for the child support court has been refurbished in the Robert D. Rucker Building and a parking lot is being added nearby which should alleviate some of the previous physical constraints and logistical problems with the Gary location.
Lake Circuit Court Judge George Paras had issued a temporary restraining order stopping the relocation. An appeal was then filed with the Court of Appeals.
Stefaniak and Freeman-Wilson made a joint announcement Dec. 4 that an agreement had been reached that should bring a settlement to the litigation surrounding the move of the IV-D Child Support Court. They attributed the agreement to a “collaborative effort” involving Lake County Commissioner Roosevelt Allen, Lake County Clerk Michael Brown, Lake County Prosecutor Bernard Carter, and Lake County Council members Elsie Franklin and Jerome Prince.
Freeman-Wilson discussed the case in September when she spoke in Indianapolis at the Marion County Bar Association’s Kuykendall-Conn Dinner. She said she had met with Bonaventura, now director of the Indiana Department of Child Services, and when they could not reach an understanding, the mayor decided to join the lawsuit.
If the litigation gets remanded to the trial court, Stefaniak believes a motion to dismiss will be granted. Even though the lawsuit has not been formally settled, the judge said he met with county leaders, talked to his staff and decided that moving the court back to Gary now was the right thing to do.
Stefaniak will assume full-time responsibilities at the Lake County Juvenile Court on Dec. 20. He anticipated the IV-D Child Support Court would reopen in Gary at the start of February 2014.