October 9, 2014
(PDF of this article and links)
On September 25, 2014 attorneys for family intervenors secured a favorable settlement in Benjamin v. Pa. Department of Public Welfare (DPW), securing approval from the District Court (order and opinion).
The settlement requires the State to enable hundreds of Pennsylvania’s intellectually disabled residents to remain in their current state facility (“ICF/IID”) homes or transition into community-based care, according to individual choice.
"Finally after almost 5 1/2 frustrating years, efforts to construct an agreement culminated in a very good outcome," said Bert Springstead, lead intervenor and retired VOR Board Member and State Coordinator. "For example, it is expected that an unbiased implementation of the agreement’s protocols will diminish the current mistrust of DPW by many family members and guardians."
Department of Justice Activities Throughout the USA: Background and advice for State Officials and Advocates
In February 2011, Tom York was a presenter at the Association of Public and Private Developmental Disabilities Administrators annual conference. Mr. York has been practicing law for more than 30 years and has been focused on helping states to respond to the DOJ for the past 20 years. He has been the lead attorney on U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) cases in many states and most recently completed a six week trial in the DOJ suit against Arkansas. A decision in favor of the State was issued on June 7, 2011.
Mr. York opened his presentation with a warning about the motives of the DOJ. He believes that the DOJ is trying to close Public Residential Facilities (PRFs) and he gave a series of quotations by Sam Bagnestos, the head of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division to support his claims. These quotations show that Mr. Bagnestos’ personal philosophy is anti public residential facilities. Mr. York also presented the arguments that the DOJ is using in CRIPA, ADA, and Olmstead suits. Read More.
“Most lawsuits are brought by persons who believe their rights have been violated. Not this one . . . All or nearly all of those residents have parents or guardians who have the power to assert the legal rights of their children or wards. Those parents and guardians, so far as the record shows, oppose the claims of the United States. Thus, the United States [Department of Justice] is in the odd position of asserting that certain persons’ rights have been and are being violated while those persons – through their parents and guardians disagree.”
In an 85-page ruling, the Chief U.S. District Judge J. Leon Holmes said DOJ failed to prove its claims that the Conway Human Development Center violated its residents’ rights under the U.S. Constitution, as well as under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Holmes questioned the authority, expertise and methods of several expert witnesses used to support the federal government’s arguments. He extensively cited testimony of residents’ parents and guardians who were satisfied with the treatment the residents receive there.