DHS seeks names of Children's Rights' sources
BY GINNIE GRAHAM World Staff Writer
Saturday, August 11, 2012
8/11/12 at 7:18 AM
Read the latest court filings and ongoing coverage of child abuse and neglect.
The Oklahoma Department of Human Services is trying to find out the identities of the confidential sources used by a New York-based nonprofit, which filed a federal class-action lawsuit that was settled in January.
DHS attorneys argued in a filing last week that Children's Rights must produce all documents with its unnamed sources so they can verify claims made in its attorney fee request.
"Defendants cannot adequately and properly respond to this request without knowledge of what, precisely, they are being asked to pay for," the filing states.
Children's Rights balked at this reasoning in a Friday filing, claiming DHS has offered no explanation why the identities are helpful to the court. The lawsuit had alleged flaws and unsafe conditions in the state's child-welfare system.
"(The request) illustrates precisely why the State of Oklahoma expended over $6.5 million and an unaccounted for and unknown additional amount of agency resources in wasted litigation costs to defend a foster care system now universally recognized as having been a complete failure," the filing states.
Children's Rights has requested $9.5 million in fees for 36,187 hours of work by 18 attorneys and 13 paralegals.
An emerging issue is what role DHS oversight commissioners and staff played in providing information to Children's Rights.
DHS attorneys claim they have knowledge of "multiple instances" of communications between the nonprofit and personnel from the commission and staff.
"Defendants' counsel had not consented to and actually had refused expressly to authorize certain of these communications," the DHS filing states.
DHS claims those communications reflect at least $200,000 of the requested fees and it has a right to know what the agency is reimbursing.
"Not only would it be unreasonable for plaintiffs to expect defendants to pay the fees that plaintiffs attorneys specifically incurred in the course of such potentially improper conduct, but such conduct also would justify serious consideration by the court as to any broader effect on a court-ordered fee award," the filing states.
Children's Rights claims the identities are privileged.
"Even if these sources were not privileged, the interests of the plaintiff children in maintaining confidentiality outweighs the interest of the defendants knowing those sources," the filing states.
Children's Rights attorneys gave several examples of situations where a confidential source is entitled to protection.
These hypothetical scenarios include whistle-blowing caseworkers, social service providers or commissioners, or a parent ignored by DHS workers about claims of abuse.
The filing poses questions as to what actions DHS attorneys would take against these sources if their identities became known. It asked what value that holds in the expenditure of $200,000.
"In light of the venomous public comments made by disgruntled commissioners - whose own derelictions of duty shocked the conscience and led this court to find that the plaintiff children had adduced evidence that DHS failed the Constitutional requirement to provide for the safety of children in its care - the confidential sources are entitled to protection," the filing states.
The settlement has led to a child-welfare improvement plan that is being overseen by an independent three-person panel.
About $1 million was spent in non-recoverable costs by Children's Rights and its attorneys.
The cost to DHS for its defense has been about $7 million, and the commission approved another $2 million last fall.
Original Print Headline: DHS wants sources' names
Ginnie Graham 918-581-8376