JACKSON, MISSISSIPPI – The federal court in Jackson has approved an historic settlement in which Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour and Attorney General Jim Hood agreed on behalf of the State of Mississippi to not dispute that the substantive constitutional due process rights of foster children in the State’s custody have been violated, allowing the parties to the pending child welfare class action to focus on the negotiation of necessary systemic reforms prior to the October 3, 2007 date set for trial as to remedy. Loeb & Loeb LLP worked closely with Children’s Rights and two local law offices in a legal battle that began three years ago when Loeb & Loeb attorneys initiated the class action against senior Mississippi executives responsible for the State’s foster care agency.
“This victory will have a material effect for years to come in sparing at-risk foster children further neglect, abuse, and worse,” said John Lang, the former Loeb & Loeb Partner who led the team. “The court decisions we helped obtain have set important national precedents that child advocacy groups will cite in briefs for years to come.”
The suit alleged that the substantive constitutional due process rights of over 3,500 Mississippi foster children in state custody had been violated through the State's repeated failures to provide essential medical care, protection against neglect and abuse, and minimally acceptable placement and adoption services. Rather than face trial, Mississippi agreed to a court-supervised process of reforming its child welfare system such to meet and exceed constitutional, federal, and national child protective standards.
“This case is a perfect example of how vital law firm pro bono work can be for our cause,” said Marcia Robinson Lowry, Founder and Executive Director of Children’s Rights. “There was a clear violation of the rights of some of our youngest citizens, those who are not able to defend themselves, and we were able to document how children were harmed and the systemic problems that led to the harm, so the system can be reformed.”
Olivia Y. v. Barbour was originally filed in March of 2004 on behalf of six plaintiffs; children who had fallen victim to physical and psychological harm while in the custody of the Mississippi Division of Family and Children’s Services (DFCS) or had simply been neglected by DFCS altogether. These six plaintiffs were representative of the over 3,500 foster children dependent upon the care of DFCS, as well as thousands more who are improperly diverted from the system. In May of 2004, seven more children joined in the lawsuit through an amended complaint.
“No child should be deprived of basic needs or their fundamental right to care and to be free from physical and psychological abuse. The deprivation of those rights is especially problematic, however, when the child is entrusted to the care of the government,” said John Piskora, an attorney at Loeb & Loeb who worked closely with the clients for the duration of the case. “We appreciate that Mississippi has abandoned the defense of a foster care system riddled with long-standing and serious flaws, including dangerously overburdened case workers, and have agreed to begin necessary reforms to provide a brighter future for the thousands of foster care children we represent.”
In addition to Piskora, a long list of Loeb & Loeb attorneys and paralegals contributed to this victory including Christian Carbone, Daniel Murphy, Ben King, Allan Edmiston, Greg Schwed, Paula Colbath and Geri Papa.
“We would like to extend congratulations to all of our attorneys and staff,” said Loeb & Loeb Co-Chair Michael Beck. “By working closely with the fine attorneys at Children’s Rights we were able to land an important victory for children’s rights not only in Mississippi, but nationally.”
Olivia Y. v. Barbour is one in a long list of cases Children’s Rights has undertaken in an effort to not only protect children under government care, but also to prompt reform within these systems. The organization is currently involved in Dwayne B. v. Granholm, a case in Michigan which alleges that the state of Michigan violates the constitutional, federal statutory and federal common law rights of children in foster care by failing to provide them with permanent homes on a timely basis, failing to furnish adequate medical, dental and mental health services, failing to provide safe and stable temporary foster homes, and failing to prepare children who will age out of the foster care system at the age of majority to live independently as adults.
About Children’s Rights: Children’s Rights works throughout the United States in partnership with national and local experts, advocates and government officials to document the needs of children in the care of child welfare systems. Children’s Rights helps develop realistic solutions and, where necessary, uses the power of litigation to ensure that reform takes place. For more information visit www.childrensrights.org
About Loeb & Loeb LLP: Loeb & Loeb LLP is a multiservice national law firm with 275 attorneys and offices in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, and Nashville. The firm is recognized as a leading law firm in the areas of corporate and securities matters; litigation; entertainment and media law; finance; real estate; intellectual property; private equity; employment; advertising and promotions and tax and wealth services. Our clients include some of the world’s largest financial institutions, major media and entertainment companies, NYSE, NASDAQ and Amex listed public companies, advertising groups, real estate companies, and Big Four accounting firms, as well as many high net worth individuals.