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Saturday, May 26, 2012
Ind. Gov't. - "State ends dispute over child welfare testimony"
Rebecca S. Green of the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette reports today that:
After months of haggling with Allen County prosecutors about whether they should testify about confidential information in child abuse cases, state officials said Friday they are backing off their original positions and seeking to resolve the issues away from the courtroom.
Since March, attorneys with the Department of Child Services have filed motions in two separate criminal cases, expressing concern that if DCS officials testify to confidential information in open court, they could be opening themselves up to civil or criminal penalties. * * *
Since DCS records are confidential and trials are conducted in the public eye, DCS employees would be violating state law by testifying to confidential records and could get in trouble, DCS officials said.
The information they specifically sought to protect was the confidential content of DCS’ child abuse and neglect records and the identity of all reporting sources which “led to any child abuse/neglect,” according to motions filed by the DCS attorneys.
Allen County Prosecutor Karen Richards, in a hearing this month, denounced DCS’ recent actions, and in a motion pending before Allen Superior Judge Fran Gull called the behavior of the state agency absurd.
Gull scheduled a hearing for Wednesday in one of the cases, a child molesting case involving a 13-year-old girl, allegedly seduced and given alcohol by 22-year-old Allen Reed. In January, prosecutors charged Reed with two charges of child molesting and a misdemeanor charge of contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
In a motion filed in that case, DCS attorney Diana Mejia argued that access to confidential information by the court is limited to a private review by a judge unless public disclosure of the information is deemed necessary to resolve some issue pending in the court.
“Since criminal proceedings are presumptively open to attendance by the general public…the (case manager’s) improper disclosure of information classified as confidential by Indiana statutes would subject the state employee to penalties under Indiana code,” Mejia wrote. * * *
In a response filed with the court Thursday, Richards called DCS’ contentions absurd.
DCS’ suggestion that testifying, at the request of the prosecution, could open case workers up to criminal penalty would require the prosecutors to charge the DCS employee for doing what was asked of them, Richards contended.
“Following DCS logic, the state would then have to charge itself with a criminal offense for aiding in the commission of this crime,” Richards wrote. “The absurdity of this DCS assertion is evident. … For DCS to assert that their workers cannot cooperate in a criminal prosecution is ludicrous.”