In today's morning read, I saw this article on a woman who successfully sued the local children services agency.
A civil jury has awarded $4.9 million to a Seal Beach woman who claimed that the Orange County Department of Social Services violated her parental rights by taking her two pre-teen daughters away in 2000 and placing them in foster care.Lawyers for Deanna Fogarty-Hardwick contended that two social workers fabricated negative evidence and suppressed positive evidence to support their decision to remove the girls, who were then 6 and 9.
The jury in Superior Court Judge Ronald Bauer's courtroom voted 10-2 that Fogarty-Hardwick's right to raise her children free of governmental interference had been violated, said Shawn A. McMillan, one of her attorneys.
I do not know all of the facts in this case and I would invite anyone who does to comment on them here. However, I will say that in my line of work as a family law attorney, then agencies like these get involved in cases, it becomes a scary dilemma for lawyers. Do you advise your client to cooperate? Or are you doing them wrong by not advising them to exercise their 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination, since these things can wind up in dependency court?
As with many states, California has - by statute - mandated reporters. These are persons who by their occupation come into contact with children and must report any reasonable suspicions of child abuse or neglect. By virtue of being a mandated reporter, they are immune from civil liability in a suit filed by an angry parent. I know that when I have a client complain that they think the other parent is "abusing" the child, I have to walk a fine line in hearing them outright and haering them in the context of a custody dispute, where I know people's emotions cloud reality and their better judgment, at times. For many mandated reporters, that distinction is overlooked at the report is filed, setting off what can turn into a firestorm. Reading this article does not assuage my worries when I have to deal with this.