Criminal Charge: Alleged Deprived Child and DHS Takes Custody of the Child
Case: In the Matter of V.A., an Alleged Deprived Child
Court: [Garvin County, OK]
Result: Case Dismissed
Over the course of a law practice an attorney learns to recognize certain red flags. One such red flag is a prospective client who has hired and fired one or more lawyers before coming to you for help. Often, this indicates a difficult client. Sometimes, however, it indicates a difficult case and a person in genuine need of zealous advocacy.
Here’s what happened.
One of this client’s three young children had been seized by the good people at the Oklahoma Department of Human Services [“DHS”]. She was poor and desperate to get her kids. Her paperwork suggested the reason she was hiring and firing lawyers was the father of the child seized was a local lawyer: it appeared he was driving the many efforts to seize all her children with his anonymous calls to DHS about her parenting skills because she refused to divorce and marry him. Haslam agreed to defend the allegation that she had deprived her children; as an attorney from Tulsa County, many miles from the parochial venue of Garvin County, he labored under none of the worries about offending local officials who appeared to be manufacturing evidence.
Haslam subpoenaed a number of witnesses to the bench trial before the Hon. CHARLES N. GRAY [when an Oklahoma parent wishes to contest a “deprived finding” rather than agree to the allegations and work a “treatment plan” before she can get her kids back, she can only have a trial by a judge, not a jury, unless and until DHS decides to try to terminate her parental rights….]. But there were subpoenae problems.
When a witness is subpoenaed, a “return of service” MUST be filed with the Clerk of Court who files the return in the case file. On his arrival for the bench trial, however, Haslam learned the case file was not present that day. Because a lawyer cannot enforce the appearance of his witnesses if they refuse to attend without showing the trial court the returns of service, Haslam inquired where the file was and offered to retrieve it. Gray was offended by the request for the court file, held him in direct contempt of court and ordered him jailed for ten days. In the book-in process, he was searched, put in an orange jumpsuit, mugshotted and joined a group of prospective clients in a courthouse holding cell. Gray later heralded the contempt as a victory of sorts in the local paper but released Haslam from jail after several hours.
At trial before a replacement judge weeks later, Haslam called the DHS caseworker who seized the child, the two officers at the scene of the child’s removal, the attorney father and, most importantly, the physician specifically trained in detecting child abuse injuries who inspected the child after DHS removed her from the home. The cops testified the home was NOT filthy, as the caseworker alleged, and the physician testified the child did NOT exhibit injuries inconsistent with accidental trauma, as the caseworker alleged. Still further, it became apparent that caseworker had flat-out lied to the Court in the original show-cause hearing when she testified the physician had observed such injuries. Nonetheless, the replacement judge found the child had been deprived. Stunning. Haslam appealed.
On appeal, the Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals reversed this decision and ordered Gray to dismiss the case. In its page 18, first full paragraph, the attached decision includes [see link above to the reversal] the appellate court’s remarkable language that the case was not even close…. This case demonstrates what too often happens when OK DHS seizes a child. True Believers – DHS staff, the prosecutor and the Court – wear blinders and refuse to see evidence. Indeed, this case is the second time I have exposed a DHS caseworker flatly lying under oath to a trial court, and the appellate court expressly called out her lie in the attached decision.
After the mother’s case was closed and she had her child home, Haslam turned his attention to Gray’s contempt citation and appealed it to the Oklahoma Supreme Court. The Supreme Court elects to review very few of the cases it is presented and when it does it’s a strong indication it will reverse. Here, the Court granted review. Days later, the Assistant Attorney General tasked with defending Gray’s decision called Haslam’s attorney requesting he agree to an Order vacating the contempt citation if Haslam would abandon his appeal. The contempt citation was vacated and Judge Charles Gray of McIntosh County, OK avoided what likely would have been yet another appellate reversal of his work.