In what must be one of the most bizarre child protection cases to date, government officials in America are defending a law suit against them which accuses Orange County’s social workers of lying, falsifying records and concealing evidence, all of which led to the unjust removal of two children from their mother.
The line of defense, put together by a law firm specialising in defending police officers in big money cases, goes like this: the social workers involved in the proceedings couldn’t have “clearly” known that dishonesty wasn’t acceptable in court and, even if they did know, they should remain immune from prosecution because they are government employees.
Even more remarkable still, is that this case has been going on for 16 years.
As it’s Friday, we thought we’d share part of the transcript from the case with you:
Exchanges between panel and Pancy Lin, a partner at Lynberg & Watkins, Oct. 7, 2016
Trott: How in the world could a person in the shoes of your clients possibly believe that it was appropriate to use perjury and false evidence in order to impair somebody’s liberty interest in the care, custody and control of that person’s children? How could they possibly not be on notice that you can’t do this?
Lin: I understand.
Trott: How could that possibly be?
Lin: I understand the argument that it seems to be common sense in our ethical, moral . . .
Trott: It’s more than common sense. It’s statutes that prohibit perjury and submission of false evidence in court cases.
Lin: State statutes.
Trott: Are you telling me that a person in your client’s shoes couldn’t understand you can’t commit perjury in a court proceeding in order to take somebody’s children away?
Lin: Of course not, your honor.
Trott: Of course not!
Owens: Isn’t the case over then?
Trott: The case is over.
Lin: Thus far we have not been presented with a clearly established right that tells us what our clients did which was remove the children pursuant to a court order . . .
Friedland: The issue here is committing perjury in a court to take away somebody’s children and you just said that’s obviously not okay to do.
Lin: According to our moral compass and our ethical guidelines, but we’re here to decide the constitutionality of it and we look to the courts to tell us.
Trott: You mean to tell us due process is consistent with a government official submitting perjured testimony and false evidence? How is that consistent? I mean I hate to get pumped up about this but I’m just staggered by the claim that people in the shoes of your clients wouldn’t be on notice that you can’t use perjury and false evidence to take away somebody’s children. That to me is mind boggling.
Lin: In criminal proceedings we know this to be true because . . .
Trott: No, no! It’s a court proceeding with a liberty interest, a fundamental liberty interest at stake.
Lin: And on the reverse side . . .
Trott: And you’re telling us that these officials [weren’t] on notice that you can’t commit perjury and put in false evidence?
Lin: I understand broadly the principle that common sense tells us that lying is wrong and lying to . . .
Trott: Yeah, but it’s more than common sense. We’re using statutes against this kind of behavior.
Lin: I, uh, I don’t. I was not presented [sic]. I have not been seen [sic] any federal law or case law or law that tells me that in this situation that we were faced in that, which is what we have to look at . . .
Trott: Well, say your clients hired six people to be actors and to go into court and to say, ‘We’re neighbors and we saw all this terrible stuff.’ And then your client presented those witnesses in court. You’re telling me that they would have no reason to believe that you can’t do that because there was no federal case that says you can’t bring actors into court to swear falsely against somebody?
Lin: But again here we’re appealing to a sort of broader definition of what is a clearly established right. I mean we have to find the clearly established right in the context our, um, social workers were presented with, which was they were faced with a court order.
Trott: Again, I cannot even believe for a micro-second that a social worker wouldn’t understand that you can’t lie and put in false evidence!
Owens: Let me ask the question a different way. Is there anything you know of that told social workers that they should lie and that they should create false evidence in a court proceeding?
Lin: No, and, of course, that is, uh, we contend that is not what happened here.
U.S. District Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit panel discussing dishonest Orange County government conduct: judges Stephen S. Trott, John B. Owens and Michelle T. Friedland in October 2016
Another thank you to Charles Pragnell at the National Child Protection Alliance for sharing this item with us.