Emergency Hearing Held in Foster Care Lawsuit

foster case
Judge's gavel | Image by kuzmaphoto

A U.S. District Judge held an emergency hearing on Wednesday pertaining to a years-long Texas foster care case in which she previously found that children in the system often come out worse than when they entered.

Judge Janis Graham Jack scheduled the hearing to discuss filings made by the plaintiffs requesting documents and depositions from the defendants, reported The Dallas Morning News.

The hearing comes less than one month before a hearing in which Jack will determine whether Gov. Greg Abbott and two agencies should be held in contempt of court for failing to take significant action in accordance with her orders.

Jack will also consider imposing a partial receivership during the upcoming hearing, which would allow her to appoint someone to run portions of the foster care program.

According to Jack, the hearing could last as long as five days.

Prerak Shah, an attorney at Gibson Dunn & Crutcher, the firm defending Texas, said the plaintiffs have “had more than enough time” to file requests, adding that the requests should either be removed or rescheduled.

“You have served overly broad requests that demand an astounding amount of production,” wrote Shah on Tuesday in a letter to Paul Yetter, the plaintiffs’ lead lawyer, per the DMN.

During Wednesday’s hearing, Yetter agreed to narrow down the requests to allow the defense time to obtain the information.

Kevin Ryan, the court-appointed monitor, said his team has had difficulty obtaining accurate information from child protective services.

Ryan claimed his team members were given lists of the children who should be at a given foster home during site visits but noted that the children actually encountered during the visits differed from those on the lists.

Stephanie Muth, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services commissioner, said that the inaccurate information resulted from “information being in two separate systems.”

“Do you not find it incredible that you cannot on a given date make a list of all the [Permanent Managing Conservatorship] children and who their caregivers are?” questioned Jack, according to the DMN. “Do you not find it to be negligent?”

Muth said the list could likely be produced, but she did not know how long it would take to get the most up-to-date information.

“OK, I’m going to order you to do it three weeks from today and provide it to the monitors,” responded Jack, per the DMN.

The hearing stems from a 2011 lawsuit in which the New York-based advocacy group Children’s Rights Inc. alleged that Texas violated the constitutional rights of foster children, per The Texas Tribune.

Jack found during a subsequent trial in 2015 that Texas did violate the constitutional rights of foster children, prompting Jack to order reforms throughout the foster care system.

Since the 2015 trial, Jack has fined the state for being in contempt for not taking action in November 2019 and again in September 2020, according to The Texas Tribune.

Earlier this year, Jack threatened to fine the state again, stating, “Somebody is not getting the urgency of this,” per The Texas Tribune.

“I know that you all say you understand the urgency, but this is just not happening,” she said.

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