Ex-Indiana child services director hired by attorney general

Former Indiana Department of Child Services Director Mary Beth Bonaventura plans to join the Indiana Attorney General’s Office as special counsel Monday, a move that comes about a month after she resigned from her DCS post and wrote a critical resignation letter to Gov. Eric Holcomb.

Attorney General Curtis Hill announced Bonaventura’s move to his office on Wednesday. Prior to her tenure at DCS, which began in 2013, Bonaventura served as a magistrate judge in the Lake County juvenile court until she was appointed in 1993 as senior judge of the Lake Superior Court’s juvenile division.

“I’m extremely pleased to bring aboard a leader of such caliber as Judge Bonaventura,” Hill said in a written statement. “Her breadth of experience and depth of knowledge will continue to prove indispensable assets to the citizens of Indiana as she steps into this next phase of her distinguished public service.”

Bonaventura resigned from DCS officially on Dec. 27 after penning a Dec. 12 resignation letter accusing Holcomb’s administration of making decisions that “all but ensure children will die.”

Holcomb quickly appointed Terry Stigdon, Riley Hospital for Children clinical director of operations, as Bonaventura’s replacement. And he called for a "complete assessment" of the agency.

The DCS has seen a skyrocketing number of cases in recent years amid the growing opioid epidemic.

Local family law attorneys point to money problems and bureaucratic issues as the underlying causes of DCS’ troubles. Bonaventura alluded to similar issues in her resignation letter.

Meanwhile, Indiana legislative leaders said they have no plans to act on the growing DCS crisis during the 2018 legislative session. Holcomb, however, pledged to conduct a “transparent” review of the department during his State of the State address.

Bonaventura said Wednesday she plans to assist the AG’s office in its efforts to combat the drug epidemic that is adding to the DCS caseload.

“I am honored and excited to have the opportunity to work with AG Hill on continuing the fight against the opioid crisis and tackling the many challenges facing Hoosiers and their families,” Bonaventura said in written comments.”

Hill's office did not respond to a question over whether Hill is deliberately trying to stoke a feud with Holcomb.

Holcomb's office declined to comment on Hill's hiring of Bonaventura.

"We wish her well in this new chapter," said spokeswoman Stephanie Wilson.

Mike Murphy, a Republican strategist and former state lawmaker, said it could be "a mercy hiring" or it could be that "Hill is trying to stake out his ground as the most powerful Republican officeholder in the state."

"What he doesn't understand is the governor always wins," Murphy said.

Since his 2016 election in which he became the single greatest vote-getter in state history, Hill has sought to build up his profile, often issuing news releases trumpeting his appearances on Fox News, or his views on issues that have a seemingly limited connection to the businesses of his office.

Hill notably opposed a law Holcomb pushed last year that allowed for an expansion of needle exchanges to combat outbreaks of disease among intravenous drug users. Public health experts say such exchanges are effective and credit one in Scott County for curtailing an HIV outbreak there.

Hill has also spoken out against a law Holcomb signed allowing children with severe forms of epilepsy to be treated with cannabidiol, which is derived from the marijuana plant but contains little or no THC, the component that makes you high. Hill declared it "illegal" and called for an end to its sales, despite studies that have found it effective.

Hill's office did not say how much Bonaventura will be paid, whether her "special counsel" position was newly created, or what her work portfolio will include. Bonaventura was not made available for an interview.

A well-respected former Lake County juvenile judge with more than 30 years' experience in the field, Bonaventura was appointed to lead the Department of Child Services in 2013 by then-Gov. Mike Pence.

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