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Disability Law Clinic files suit against state for violating court hearings (Released: 128/95)

by Luis Mocete, Office of University Communications.

STORRS, Conn. -- The University of Connecticut s Disability Law Clinic has filed a lawsuit contending the state is violating the constitutional rights of parents and children by failing to hold required court hearings when seizing children suspected of being abused or neglected.

The class-action lawsuit, entitled Pamela B. v. Ment, was filed Dec. 7 in Hartford Superior Court. According to state law, juvenile court proceedings are sealed to the public to protect the privacy of the children.

Three top state officials, Aaron Ment, chief court administrator of the Connecticut Judicial Department, Gov. John Rowland and Linda D Amario Rossi, commissioner of the state Department of Children and Families (DCF), have been named as defendants.

The reason why we are suing the governor and other officials is because the state has to make more of a commitment to the juvenile courts to provide enough judges and staff if they are going to take emergency custody of so many children, says Paul Chill, a clinical professor of law at the Disability Law Clinic.

Connecticut law requires the juvenile court to hold a hearing no more than ten days after a judge signs an order giving DCF emergency temporary custody of a child. That order is signed in chambers and is based solely on affidavits and other papers provided by DCF without the parent or anyone else present. The ten-day hearing provides the first and only opportunity for parents to challenge DCF s removal of their child.

Since the spring, there have been several cases where the courts have not held proper hearings, Chill says. Some of the courts are convening hearings but refusing to permit testimony while other courts are postponing hearings for weeks or months at a time after taking brief, limited testimony, he says.

These illegal practices stem from a dramatic increase in the number of orders of temporary custody sought by DCF in the aftermath of the Baby Emily case, as well as understaffed and overburdened juvenile courts, says Hollace P. Brooks, another clinical professor who has worked on the law suit. As a result, some children have been kept in DCF s temporary custody for months without a court hearing.

Chill and his staff want the court to declare that the practice of not having a ten-day hearing is illegal. They also want the court to enforce a ruling that will make the defendants comply with the law.

The clinic, located at the UConn School of Law in Hartford, represents people with mental disabilities in abuse and neglect cases, special education cases and cases involving claims of discrimination on the basis of physical or mental disability.

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