Bonaventura to temporarily fill Marion Superior vacancy

Senior judge and former head of the Indiana Department of Child Services Mary Beth Bonaventura has been appointed judge pro tempore to fill a vacancy in Marion Superior Court 15, starting Feb. 7 and continuing until further order from the Indiana Supreme Court.

Bonaventura is filling the seat that opened when Marion Superior Judge Mark Jones retired Jan. 8.  According to the Supreme Court order, she expressed a willingness to serve as judge in Jones’ former court.

Three finalists to permanently fill Jones’ seat have been sent to Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb.

Bonaventura, a native of East Chicago, was appointed the senior judge of Lake Superior Court’s Juvenile Division in 1993 by then-Gov. Evan Bayh. In 2013, she was tapped by then-Gov. Mike Pence to lead DCS. Legislators hailed her appointment.

“No one in this state understands the intricacies of child welfare better than Judge Bonaventura, making her the perfect choice to lead DCS,” then-Senate President Pro Tem David Long said.

However, in December 2017, she abruptly resigned, claiming in a scathing letter that the policies put in place by Holcomb would “all but ensure children will die.” She asserted the administration’s cutting the DCS budget and services as well as the appointment of Eric Miller as her chief of staff were ultimately endangering children.

Also, she maintained the Child Support Bureau was “on the verge of collapse due to antiquated technology” used to receive and dispense about $1 billion in child support payments every year. The technology, dubbed ISETS, which is short for Indiana Support Enforcement Tracking System, was slated to be replaced by a new system called INvest, or Indiana Verification and Enforcement of Support, but Holcomb pulled the plug on the program.

Following her departure, the Child Welfare Policy and Practice Group was hired to do a review of DCS and make recommendations for improvement.

The consultants discovered that from 2013 through 2017, five reviews were conducted of DCS at a cost of $1.3 million but the agency never took any actions to address the problems that were found. In addition, the consultants’ report raised the question of whether children were being removed from their parents too quickly.

Less than a month after she left DCS, Bonaventura joined former Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill as special counsel. She was then named chief of staff in 2019.

When Hill was accused of sexually inappropriate conduct, Bonaventura was among his staffers who were ordered to turn over certain documents as part of an attorney discipline case.

Bonaventura was named a senior judge in October 2020 after Hill lost his bid to serve another term as attorney general.

In August 2021, Bonaventura was appointed judge pro tempore of St. Joseph Superior Court 7, filling the opening created when Judge Steven Hostetler retired.

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