Tulsa Judge Greenlights Federal DHS Case

Wednesday, January 7th 2009, 11:13 am
By: News On 6

By Ashli Sims, The News On 6

TULSA, OK -- A federal judge in Tulsa gives the go-ahead to a federal lawsuit against the Oklahoma Department of Human Services

The agency had asked a federal judge to throw out the lawsuit its facing.  The lawsuit was filed on behalf of nine Oklahoma children who say they were bounced from one placement to the next and abused, while in Department of Human Services' care.  Both sides were in federal court in Tulsa on Wednesday to see if the case will move forward.

Lawyers representing DHS, and the nine children, spent the afternoon making arguments in federal court.

DHS's lawyers argue the case is a state matter that state courts are dealing with and they contend the federal case should be thrown out.

Related story:  12/18/2008  Federal Suit Continues Against DHS

"There's something very wrong in the Oklahoma system. It's been wrong and documented for at least 10 years. Something very serious is going on for Oklahoma children," said Marcia Lowry with Children's Rights.

According to the attorneys from the advocacy group Children's Rights, the only way to fix the problems is through federal court.  They've teamed up with local lawyers to sue Oklahoma's Department of Human Services on behalf of nine children in state care.

They say many of their clients have been abused and they've had a revolving door of hundreds of case workers.

"Children's constitutional rights are being violated and a lot of children are being harmed in the custody of this state.  That's a violation of their substantive due process rights and this court has the jurisdiction to hear that," said Marcia Lowry with Children's Rights.

"Well, unfortunately, children sometimes do get harmed.  The question is what's the cause of that harm. The plaintiffs allege that it's caused by the Department of Human Services. That's what's denied," said DHS attorney Robert Skieth.

Lawyers for DHS say it is a state matter, not within the reach of the federal bench, and the case should be thrown out.  Skeith argues federal action would interfere with every other custody case in the state, potentially clogging up the system.

"The other side is not from here. They don't understand how it operates here in Oklahoma.  They came from New York," said DHS attorney Robert Skieth.

Allene Hebensperger says she's glad the lawyers from Children's Rights are taking DHS on.  The Hobart, Oklahoma resident says she's contacted the agency 23 times about her granddaughter, who she fears is being sexually abused.

"It can't be solved in state court. They're not going to do anything. We have a system, where the children are not important," said Allene Hebensperger.

Judge Frizell ruled on Wednesday that the case can move forward.