The Dallas County Juvenile Department (DCJD) is suing the Dallas County Commissioners Court following an order to hand over records on juvenile tenure in solitary confinement.
Commissioner Andrew Sommerman had initially prompted the Commissioners Court to obtain observation sheets from the DCJD with redacted personal information of juveniles during the Commissioners Court’s May 5 meeting due to allegations from parents, children, and officials of juveniles spending extended time in solitary confinement, as previously reported by The Dallas Express.
Commissioner John Wiley Price, Sommerman’s predecessor on the Juvenile Court, however, said that the Commissioners Court had no legal jurisdiction to request such documents. Despite this, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins set up a special meeting for the court on May 8 to consider issuing an order for the release of these documents.
At this special meeting, the Commissioners Court ultimately approved an order requesting these documents on the basis that the documents are necessary to carry out the court’s administrative functions. Commissioner Price was the only member of the court who voted against the order.
The Juvenile Court is disputing the order, arguing that only it has the grounds to conduct such an investigation. The lawsuit claims that Sommerman’s subpoena from the Commissioners Court was a “direct violation of state law.”
“Specifically, the Commissioners Court issued a subpoena directed to the DCJD, care of Darryl Beatty, its Executive Director, demanding that extremely voluminous records relating to juveniles in Dallas County detention facilities between January 1, 2023 and April 4, 2023 be produced with the threat of a fine or even jail time for non-compliance,” alleges the lawsuit. “The DCJD was given a mere 19 days to comply, including the Memorial Day holiday,” it continued.
As such, the DCJD asks that the subpoena be invalidated on the grounds that the Commissioners Court has “neither the right to request nor the right to view” the documents for which they have asked.
Commissioner Sommerman remains confident that the Commissioners Court has the authority to receive these documents because it funds the juvenile department.
“Obviously, we are entitled to it,” said Sommerman, according to The Dallas Morning News. “This is my job: to make sure that they have proper funding,” he continued.
Judge Jenkins concurred with Sommerman in a text message, stating that as the funding entity for the department, it is necessary for the court to have these documents, according to the DMN.
The lawsuit also claims that neither Jenkins nor Sommerman had called for an official investigation. Sommerman, however, denies this, claiming that his initial request for an investigation into the solitary confinement of juveniles was denied by the board chair. He further claims that he had requested a meeting to raise the issue but the meeting was canceled, reported the DMN.
Brian Hail, an attorney representing the Juvenile Court, said that even without the redacted information, the confidentiality of the remainder of the document still stands.
The Commissioners Court’s next meeting is scheduled for June 6.