Posts Tagged attorney
By Attorney David Engler
Private placement agencies if not monitored well by Children Service Boards can end in tragedy. In Trumbull County, Ohio there have been at least 5 murders of children who were either directly through foster placement or indirectly through custody orders placed with the abuser.
In Fairfield County, Ohio a 5 year old boy was made to stand out in the rain and cold as a punishment. The boy was taken by ambulance to ER after going into cardiac arrest. He has permanent neurological damage. A private agency working under the County made the placement. The agency did not inquire as to why the foster parents had been denied a license in Hamilton County, Ohio.
The failure of Children Protective Service agencies is an epidemic.
The New York Times reported earlier this year reported about the wide spread abuse in the City. I am quoting it in its near entirety.
The New York Times –
“Lawyers for 10 disabled children who were fraudulently adopted by a Queens woman more than 15 years ago and subjected to years of abuse have proposed a $68 million settlement in a civil rights lawsuit filed on their clients’ behalf, according to a confidential court filing.”
Matthew Ratajczak/Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers,
“The proposal comes as a federal magistrate judge in Brooklyn appears to be trying to mediate a settlement to the suit, filed in 2009, which seeks damages from New York City and three contract adoption agencies that placed the children with the woman, Judith Leekin.
Serial Abuser for Foster Money
The case has been seen as one of the most disturbing child welfare fraud cases in the city in recent years. Ms. Leekin used four aliases to adopt the children, who had physical or developmental disabilities, including autism and retardation, and later moved them to Florida. The children were caged, restrained with plastic ties and handcuffs, beaten with sticks and hangers, and kept out of school, according to court papers. An 11th child disappeared while in Ms. Leekin’s care and is presumed dead.
The suit asks that the 10 plaintiffs, now mostly in their 20s, be compensated for their years of suffering as well as for the services and treatment they will need for the rest of their lives.
The letter was filed publicly in October, but was quickly sealed after the lawyer wrote that it “referred to confidential discussions between the parties.” The New York Times obtained the letter while it was publicly available.
Ms. Leekin, 66, was imprisoned after she was convicted of fraud in federal court in Manhattan and of abuse in a state court in Florida. Federal prosecutors have said that as part of her scheme, she collected $1.68 million in subsidies from the city that went to support a lavish lifestyle.
When the 10 children were removed from her care in 2007, none had completed elementary school; only three could read and only at a third-grade level; and about half were declared either “totally incapacitated” or “vulnerable adults,” according to a report by a former Columbia University social work professor retained by the plaintiffs to examine the cases.
The 10 have since lived in Florida in state programs or on their own, and at least one is homeless, according to court filings.
New York City and the three private agencies have denied liability in the case, claiming that Ms. Leekin was a sophisticated serial criminal whose scheme fooled various professionals and, given the capabilities and practices of the time, would not have been foreseen or detected.
The agencies are HeartShare Human Services of New York, SCO Family of Services and the now-closed St. Joseph Services for Children and Families.
The agencies’ lawyer, Robert S. Delmond, did not respond to messages seeking a comment on Thursday. Lawyers for the city and the plaintiffs declined to comment, citing the pending litigation.
In the now-sealed letter to Judge Go, Mr. Delmond described the $68 million demand as “a significant sum, which requires much consideration, thought, planning and involvement of corporate officers before they can reach a decision.” The agencies’ insurance carrier was reviewing the matter, he noted, and was “not prepared to make a settlement offer at this time.”
He requested more time to allow for further consultations with the insurer and meetings to discuss “possible settlement offers.”
It is unclear how the city and the private agencies might apportion any payout if a settlement is reached.
Jonathan S. Abady, a lawyer whose firm, Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady, has handled suits against the city and private agencies in cases involving abused and neglected children, said “there does appear to be a uniform indemnification provision” in the contracts the city has with such agencies.
“But the city has the ultimate legal responsibility for the child,” said Mr. Abady, whose firm is not involved in the Leekin suit.
In August, Theodore Babbitt, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, asked Judge Go to move the case forward because of the “fragile, unstable and precarious” condition of the plaintiffs. “They are desperate for care that cannot be provided through the Florida state system,” he wrote.
He cited three of the male plaintiffs, who ranged in age from 19 to 24: one had been on a round-the-clock suicide watch after multiple attempts to take his own life. Another had fathered children out of wedlock and was homeless. A third had been arrested for domestic violence against his older brother. “He is angry and depressed and bottles it up inside until he violently explodes,” Mr. Babbitt wrote.”
ifference towards the sexual abuse of children by men in leadership positions does not seem to be isolated only in Happy Valley.
Attorney David Engler
Also published on Family Fault Lines Blog http://familyfaultlines.com/
Also published on eGuardianship Blog https://eguardianship.wordpress.com/
By Attorney David Engler
Another toddler was killed in a foster home, this time in Maryland.
The two year old girl was beaten to death by the 12 year old son of the foster parents.
Public child welfare agencies are the only ones who don’t see that our delivery system of child protection services is largely broken. They hide from scrutiny by cloaking themselves in rules of confidentiality.
Of the families I have represented the thread is common. They are usually poor, uneducated and unable to ask questions. Perhaps that is why their children end up in children services care.
But once government gets involved, then it becomes our business and the death of one child who was given to an agency that was meant to protect should cause an immediate and open review and call for changing the bureaucratically bloated child protection system.
Below is today’s editorial from the Washington Post. It could have been written in all but a handful of states like Virginia, Kansas and Florida that have overhauled children protective services.
WHEN WELFARE authorities remove a child from the home, it is supposed to be for the child’s safety. It is simply unthinkable that a 2-year-old girl in Prince George’s County who was taken from her mother’s custody was beaten to death while in the care of a foster family. Not only must there be a thorough review by county and state authorities, but it’s important that circumstances of the case — including a determination of whether the tragedy could have been prevented — be made public.
Aniyah Batchelor, who turned 2 in March, died Tuesday of “blunt force trauma,” according to Prince George’s police, who said she was beaten inside her foster parents’ home in Fort Washington. A 12-year-old boy, son of the unnamed foster parents, was charged with second-degree murder. Police allege that the boy had “beaten the child repeatedly’’ in a single attack; no weapon was used. It appears that the parents were away and their 15-year-old daughter was sleeping.
When a foster child is killed confidentiality is no excuse for concealing what happened and why.
The toddler had been in foster care since November. “Our hearts go out to the families involved. Both families and the staff that worked with them will need our support in the coming days,” read a statement issued by the Maryland Department of Human Resources, parent agency for the Prince George’s County Social Services Department, which handled the child’s placement. There is no doubting the need for sympathy, but officials also must provide a better explanation of the actions taken in this case.
Predictably, they have chosen to hide behind a supposed need for confidentiality and privacy even as state spokesman Pat Hines acknowledged that the state can discuss some details about a child in foster care if there is “an allegation of abuse and neglect” resulting in a death. Incredibly, state legal authorities concluded that that exemption doesn’t apply to Aniyah’s case.
Perhaps this was a tragedy that could not be foreseen; maybe it occurred despite best and correct efforts. But there are unanswered questions. Was the foster home properly screened? Were the parents trained? Had there been any signs of trouble? Were there alternatives that would have allowed Aniyah to avoid foster care? The public, the 6,859 Maryland families with children in foster care and, above all, this little girl’s mother need more than expressions of sorrow. They deserve answers.
Also published on Attorney David Engler’s Law Blog http://davidengler.wordpress.com
By Attorney David Engler
“I would be totally shocked by an acquittal”, said Joseph Amendola, the lawyer for the alleged serial pedophile Penn State coach Jerry Sandusky.
Those are not the words you want to see come out of your defense attorney’s mouth as a jury deliberates whether you should go to jail for the rest of your sorry life for being this nation’s most infamous pedophile. Right after the defense lawyer was done speaking, the Judge summoned the lawyers back into chambers probably to remind them all there was a gag order. A gag order can be adopted by a court particularly when it is a case heard by a jury. By the way, the victim’s testimony on the stand would have caused any person to gag. And as the jury was starting to select the foreperson, Jerry Sandusky’s 33 year old ADOPTED son said he was molested as well. Oh yeah, another young man who didn’t testify and was not seeking civil damages said he was molested over 100 times by the man who lured boys into his sick clutches by bestowing gifts and running a charity for troubled children, most without a father figure.
Perhaps the lawyer was stating the obvious or maybe he was setting his client up for an ineffective assistance of counsel claim since he also sat by Sandusky on national television as he stumbled over the question of do young boys sexually attract him.
But what is most striking about the case is that it is hard to spot a pervert. This was a football coach working for Joe Paterno. He was the dean of Linebacker U. He ran a charity to help kids, he fostered children and even adopted them.
In a recent case, I represent a mother trying to annul an adoption by a stepparent because she learned the husband/father was not who she thought him to be. And her concerns about sexual abuse where met with the same type of responses so many women get who raise the issue. They are perceived as playing the “abuse card”. The timing of their complaints is called into question. The shocking truth is that most of the complaints are true but difficult to prove. Guardian ad litem appointed to see to the welfare of the children, become themselves manipulated by the abuser. The GALs are poorly trained to understand the complexities of abuse allegations and unfamiliar with the body of scholarly research that suggests most of these complaints should be taken seriously.
In Trumbull County, Ohio the case worker displayed the amazing lack of understanding that an assessment done before a stepparent adoption should not be taken any less lightly than any other non-relative adoption. The case worker actually said the mother should have known these things about the man she married. The caseworker was unfamiliar with the notion that a pedophile will groom the mother and the victim. And this is the case worker who does the assessments before an adoption takes place in Trumbull County. If the public knew how little the assessor understood the importance of her job, they would be outraged and frightened for the children.
If the Jerry Sandusky case has brought any good it might be an increased awareness that pedophiles adopt, pedophiles want to be foster parents and pedophiles work on keeping themselves cloaked and their victims silenced. Please understand that there is nothing these victims could receive that could replace what was stolen from them. Jerry Sandusky in jail forever would simply be a small part of justice.
By Attorney David Engler
The family of first generation Mexican immigrants lived in a small town named Shiner, Texas about 130 miles west of Houston. The land is not easy to farm because the sun is so relentless and the soil rocky.
But the extended family worked their farm and raised horses and crops enough to keep everyone fed. There was never enough money to buy the newest John Deere harvester or spend much money on building new barns.
When Jesus, 47, who hung around the local hardware shop and the two beer joints at night offered to come shoe the horses for a few bucks, the young 23 year old father of two agreed.
It was a Saturday in June and the work was going to be capped off with barbecued chicken on the grill. He had plenty of Mesquite wood lying around to give it a taste like his Dad used to make it. Sunday was going to father’s day. He would relax only then.
Around 3:30 pm Miguel heard a scream and at the same time a young neighbor boy turned the corner and yelled, a man had taken Angel from the house crying. Miguel could recall the sprint to the barn from where he heard his daughter scream. Back along a pile of fencing, Jesus was on top of his daughter with his pants at his ankles. By 4:30 pm the local coroner would pronounce Jesus dead. Miguel had landed the eight blows quickly to the head and neck of his daughter’s attacker. His five year old daughter was sobbing.
After beating Jesus Flores, the father called 911.
“I need an ambulance,” the father told the dispatcher, according to 911 tapes released by police. “This guy was raping my daughter and I beat him up and I don’t know what to do. This guy is fixing to die on me, man, and I don’t know what to do.”
“Come on! This guy is going to die on me!” he continued during the frantic, five-minute call. “I don’t know what to do!”
Emergency workers, as well as the daughter’s grandfather and aunt, tried to revive Flores but could not. Lavaca County Sheriff Micah Harmon said he found the distraught father crying, saying that he had not intended to kill Flores.
“He’s a peaceable soul, ” V’Anne Huser, the father’s attorney, said. “He had no intention to kill anybody that day.”
The local sheriff ruled it a homicide, because that is what it was. In the low hills of Texas people talked straight. Within a day the local prosecutor presented the case to a grand jury that just as plainly said, Miguel was justified.
Being justified. It is the doing of an act that no reasonable person would say should not have been done. No one really needs a law book to read the defense laid out in Texas law that deadly force to stop a sexual attack is justifiable. Of course it is. If Miguel’s wife had turned the same corner and seen this drifter raping her girl and her husband landing blow after blow; she would not have stopped it. There is not a place in my mind where I can say he should not have delivered such a sure and swift justice. The beauty of this story is the remorse shown by Miguel. No one would have ever blamed him yet he said he did not mean to kill.
The father’s protection of his children knows no bounds. For Miguel there will be nightmares. But he shall forever be justified.
Also published on Attorney David Engler’s Legal Blog http://davidengler.wordpress.com//
By Attorney David Engler
The decent looking guy is telling the YPD officer not to come closer or he will jump. It is not known exactly if the officer knew that John Sylvester had 16 years earlier held his girlfriend in a headlock and shot her point blank in the face. He did 10 to 28 years for attempted murder but on this Sunday he was sitting on the edge of the Market Street Bridge spanning the Mahoning River. Of course no one in the Valley wants to go swimming in the Mahoning since its waters have long ago been polluted by the mills that once lined the river from Lowellville through Struthers, Youngstown, Girard and Warren. And John wasn’t interested in swimming. He told the police that he had forgotten what happened earlier that day. (The insanity defense didn’t work 16 years ago but maybe this time he could pull it off)
Earlier that day John had erupted into a rage against his new wife. His control over her was slipping. She dared to tell him she would not tolerate his rages and odd sense of jealousy. The fight had been simmering for months. They were living apart. He returned that Sunday to her parents’ house in a middle income neighborhood filled with the sound of children playing at the first days of summer break. He thought there was a chance he could work things out with his beautiful, smart and well-liked wife. But his head was instantly filled with fury when he found out that she was moving on and had just recently been out talking with another man. The butcher knife was on the counter. Thinking wasn’t necessary. She would learn quickly that it could only be him.
When they first met he was sweet and accommodating. At first there was a large blank spot in his history that she had no idea about. Then her friends reported to her the rumors of what happened to his first girlfriend. If only she had used Court View she could have seen the sentence and crime was more serious than he said. Why was she so naive to believe his story that he was wrestling the gun from his girlfriend when it went off. He said he was very young and it was a terrible case of teenage hormones, booze and an angry girlfriend. The justice system sucked he told her. By the time doubts started to creep in…the baby was on the way.
But this was not the time for self-doubt. She could feel the slicing of the knife into her skin and her only thought was to flee and at all costs protect her son. It was the stuff where Post Traumatic Stress Disorders come from. Fight or flee. She did both.
This bright day John was sitting on the bridge wondering whether to jump and not face what would certainly be a sentence that puts him behind bars for at least twenty years if not a life sentence if the prosecutor rings him up on attempted murder and kidnapping. But either way he did not want to go back to prison. He might have been decent looking and a fast talker but he was never a match for the real street gangsters that run the joint.
What did this mild mannered time hardened cop tell him. Sargent Lomax works family crimes and has seen a daily dose of beat up women, abused children, drug addled kids and their parents enough to last five careers if it wasn’t for his luck to be a cop in one of the toughest city’s in America. He did his job. He makes no value judgments other than his job is to save lives. He would not make a judgment even over the life of someone so vile and despicable that would shoot a girlfriend in the face, then slash his baby’s mother and infant son’s foot sixteen years later.
The negotiator had learned some basic skills in classes but almost all of it came from years of dealing with the abused and their abusers. More than anything Lomax had learned long ago that judgments were better left for a judge, jury or ultimately God. He had a job to do. In between his words of encouraging John off the ledge words flashed through his mind. They were never spoken. Words like “John it is not that much of a drop or there is nothing left for you here or save everybody the effort and take the first step…it’s easy”. No he said the boy should have a father and he needed help to calm the demons and people still cared about him. The Sargent spoke in calm words that this was no way to end this story.
He came off the edge of the bridge.
Author’s note: The stories are true but license is taken to tell these tales of love, loss and the heartbreaks that happen in families. I do not divulge confidences of my client’s unless they ask me to. I practice family law, criminal law and fight for people whose backs are against the walls. Every day I come across ordinary people like Sargent Lomax who do extraordinary work. It is my privilege to share these thoughts with you. The picture is from the Tribune Chronicle.
By Attorney David Engler
For the last 12 years I have been a school board member of a county board and a career and technical center. On the county board or Educational Service Center we provide the services to help local districts improve. We also run special schools including one for emotionally disturbed children with varying behavioral issues; a school run in conjunction with a great program started by the local Juvenile Court Judge Theresa Dellick. At the MCCTC almost a third of our students have an IEP. An IEP stands for Individual Education Plan. It is required by law and so many parents do not understand how important to ensure your child’s IEP is carefully constructed to specifically help your child no matter the cost or inconvenience to a district.
The worst thing I ever heard was from the lips of a fired teacher who told me how hard it was to chase after “tongue draggers” every day. My emotions were caught in between punching him and simply shaking my head. I am glad we fired him. Instead I will never forget those words and how insensitive some in education can be towards a child with a disability. And if that disability is one of a severe emotional problem or a slight shade of Autism or Asperger’s, then most of our teachers are ill-trained to help the child with the different wiring. There are many teachers who just get it. They are naturals at knowing how to reach the student with a disability that can be unnerving and tiring. They also understand the investment a parent has made in this child. The teacher may have the child 6 hours a week or maybe more if an elementary student.
And often indifference is the answer from an administration concerned about increased costs. So whether they admit it or not, every administrator knows that a diagnosis of a disability might bring years of extra costs for the district. In a famous case that went all the way to the Supreme Court, Forest Grove School District v. T.A. (2009) the court ruled that the district should have reimbursed the parents for the costs of private schooling since the District should have been aware of the disability and provide assistance to the family. The District claimed they had no idea there was a problem. Justice Stevens of the Supreme Court stated: “We conclude that IDEA (Individuals With Disabilities Education Act) authorizes reimbursement for the cost of special education services when a school district fails to provide a FAPE (Free and Appropriate Public Education) and the private-school placement is appropriate, regardless of whether the child previously received special education or related services through the public school.” The cost to the district was $65000 to reimburse the parents and potentially $500000 in legal fees.
Every school district is legally required to identify, locate, and evaluate children with disabilities (20 U.S.C. §1412(a)(3)). After the evaluation, the district may provide the child with specific programs and services to address special needs.
IDEA defines “children with disabilities” as individuals between the ages of three and 22 with one or more of the following conditions:
- Mental retardation
- Hearing impairment (including deafness)
- Speech or language impairment
- Visual impairment (including blindness)
- Serious emotional impairment
- Orthopedic impairment
- Traumatic brain injury
- Specific learning disability, or
- Other health impairment (20 U.S.C. §1401(3); 34 C.F.R. §300.8).
For your child to qualify for special education under IDEA, it is not enough to have one of these disabilities. There must also be evidence that the disability adversely affects your child’s educational performance.
Now each school district should be well aware of its responsibilities. But sadly not every administrator can see life from the eyes of a parent struggling to find help for their child. The schools seem relieved if they can cause the child to graduate and be done with the financial exposure. The former Director of Special Ed for Maryland, Dr. Linda Bluth gave me the best advice ever. “Our children do not fail…it is we who fail our children.” It is very difficult to cause a school culture to adopt this core belief. It makes us accountable. It denies us the ability to blame little to no achievement on a kid with a mental problem, a broken home, a history with children services, parents who think they know better(they almost always do) or some other societal bogeyman. No we have to own it. This means we will have failures. And they will sting.
But for the guardians and parents there is help for you. I have included some of the language in the federal IDEA statute above to help you know what to do. The regulations can be found at www.gov/about/offices/list/users. The country has 81 million students that fit this category. Ohio has about 3 million. We need more teachers and aides with special education training. We need to pay them more to encourage their numbers and recognize that their job makes teaching even tougher than it already is. You can also look at www.mdlclaw.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/pub-special-ed-handbook. This handbook gives you sample letters to ask for independent evaluations and how the legal process works. Or hire a lawyer.
Most importantly we need parents to step forward and be armed with the law as you demand the very best possible Free and Appropriate Public Education for your child. The key word to me is appropriate. These children are all so very different. Make sure the IEP has real goals that can be measured without someone guessing that your son or daughter has advanced with soft logic. Don’t give up and never be afraid to ask to talk directly to the Board of Education. Often the Board members are shielded from the other side of the story. Do not assume that they will side with the administrators standing in your way.
You have been given a child with special needs because you can handle it. I do not need to tell you your journey is tough. Not everyone is going to be understanding. But I can tell you that the law is on your side and many more people than you could possibly imagine.