Defending The State Department of Human Services Costly To Oklahoma
By Ashli Sims, The News On 6
TULSA, OK -- The News On 6 has uncovered new details about the price we're paying to defend Oklahoma's Department of Human Services.
A federal class action lawsuit claims DHS puts Oklahoma foster children in its care in danger, because caseworkers are overloaded.
The suit isn't just questioning the state's reputation, it's costing you money.
Going up against Children's Rights, which has launched similar lawsuits in several others states, DHS decided to hire an outside law firm, Riggs, Abney, Neal, Turpen, Orbison & Lewis.
That firm has logged more than 14,000 hours in the last two years and they've billed the state for more than $2.3 million.
The News On 6 obtained copies of DHS's monthly legal bills for the federal lawsuit. They range from about $24,000 for last February to as much as $132,000 for March of 2009.
In fact, the firm's monthly bill to the state has topped $100,000 eight different times.
And the legal battle is far from over. The dollars and cents behind this lawsuit has been fodder for both sides.
DHS claims Children's Rights has made millions suing states like Georgia, Michigan and Mississippi, "with little or no indication that the lives of foster children [in those states] have permanently improved."
Children's Rights fires back "the abused and neglected children of Oklahoma would be better served "if DHS would shift time and money from fighting the lawsuit to fixing what Children's Rights calls "a dysfunctional system."
DHS director said in a statement on Monday, "we have no choice but to defend the lawsuit," despite what he calls a challenging financial situation.
The agency is facing a $30 million budget shortfall for next year. DHS's director is considering cutting back to four-day work weeks to save money. That's almost a nine-percent pay cut for employees.
Statement on the cost of the class action from Marcia Robinson Lowry, executive director of Children's Rights:
The final cost of this class action will be determined by how much litigation DHS's attorneys force us to do in getting information vital to illuminating DHS's failings, fixing its problems, and arriving at a much better result for Oklahoma's vulnerable kids.
Now that the major legal hurdles have been overcome, the abused and neglected children of Oklahoma would be much better served if DHS would shift the time and money it is expending on fighting this lawsuit to fixing the state's dysfunctional and dangerous child welfare system instead.