INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana Supreme Court has ruled a Lake County judge cannot transfer to a juvenile court because he didn't go through merit selection when he joined the bench.
Lake Superior Court Judge Nicholas Schiralli had planned to transfer into the vacated Lake Juvenile Court position based on seniority and the agreement of 15 other Superior Court judges after former Juvenile Court Judge Mary Beth Bonaventura left to become director of the Indiana Department of Child Services.
However, three juvenile court magistrates sued to block Schiralli's transfer, and The Times of Munster reports (http://bit.ly/12M8uun ) the Supreme Court unanimously decided Friday that only merit-selected judges in Lake County can transfer from one court to another. In merit selection, a judicial nominating commission interviews applicants and chooses three finalists to present to the governor, who has final choice.
The court rejected the Superior Court judges' arguments that a law prohibiting Schiralli's transfer is unconstitutional and "a legislative overreach."
"We honor and respect their decision in this case and will follow it," Chief Lake Superior Court Judge John Pera said after the high court ruling.
Pera he has not spoken with his colleagues to find out if any of the merit-selected judges wanted to transfer to Juvenile Court.
If none of the merit-selected judges is interested in transferring, the position will be filled through merit selection. The Supreme Court said Schiralli could apply for the judgeship through the merit-selection process.
Lake Juvenile Court Magistrates Glenn Commons, Jeffery Miller and Charlotte Peller sued in March to stop Schiralli's transfer, arguing such a move would harm their opportunity for career advancement and open the Juvenile Court to other legal challenges.
Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller said the ruling "underscores the important state public policy behind the merit-selection process as set out by our statute."
"Hopefully the unanimous decision by our five justices will help the Lake County courts quickly move past this conflict so that the important work of the Juvenile Court can move forward," Zoeller said.
Schiralli's court was not open Sunday, and he could not be reached for comment.
Supreme Court spokeswoman Kathryn Dolan said Justice Robert Rucker, who is chair of the Lake County Judicial Nominating Commission, is "looking forward to meeting with the commission and establishing a timeline for filling a Lake County judicial vacancy."
Senior Judge Thomas Webber Sr. is serving as the temporary Juvenile Court judge. The court presides over 30,000 cases of juvenile delinquency, investigations of child abuse and neglect, and litigation involving child paternity and financial support. It has a $6 million budget and a staff of 169.
Information from: The Times, http://www.thetimesonline.com