The California Court of Appeals has affirmed the damage award against Orange County and two of its social workers in what has been described as the largest civil rights verdict in the State of California, and possibly the nation.
San Diego, CA (PRWEB) June 17, 2010
Case No. 01CC02379 (Trial before Hon. Ronald L. Bauer, Dept. CX103)
California Court of Appeals, Fourth District, Division Three, Case No. G039045
On March 23, 2007, the Orange County Social Services Agency and two of its Social Workers, Marcie Vreeken and Helen Dwojak were found liable for violating the parental rights of Deanna Fogarty-Hardwick, as guaranteed under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. The jury found in favor of Ms. Fogarty-Hardwick and awarded $4.9 million in economic and non-economic damages, and approximately $6,000 in punitive damages against the individual social workers.
At trial, Ms. Fogarty-Hardwick demonstrated that social workers Marcie Vreeken and Helen Dwojak caused Ms. Fogarty-Hardwick's children to be removed from her custody without cause, and continued to detain them without cause, violating Ms. Fogarty-Harwick's Constitutional right to familial association. Ms. Fogarty-Hardwick demonstrated that these defendants, while working as social workers for Orange County Social Services, intentionally fabricated evidence to obtain a court order to detain Ms. Fogarty-Hardwick's two young daughters on February 17, 2000. Ms. Fogarty-Hardwick also demonstrated that Orange County Social Services, Marcie Vreeken and Helen Dwojak maliciously failed to provide the court with exculpatory information, and filed false reports in furtherance of the effort to keep Ms. Fogarty-Hardwick separated from her children.
The lawsuit also alleged that the policies, practices, or procedures employed by Orange County Social Services and the County of Orange in the removal of Plaintiff's children from her care also violated Ms. Fogarty-Harwick's constitutional rights, under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. The unlawful policies, practices or procedures pertained to the detention of children without a finding of imminent danger or serious physical injury; interviewing children without a parent present; continuing detention after learning there was no basis to do so; using trickery and fabricated evidence; and failing to adequately train employees regarding the Constitutional rights of parents.
In addition to the jury’s verdict, the trial court also awarded attorneys fees of $1,653,284.95.
The defendants Orange County, Marcie Vreeken and Helen Dwojak, all appealed the jury verdict, the court’s decision, and the attorney fee award. On June 14, 2010, after in depth review of extensive briefs and a complex record, Division Three of the Fourth District Court of Appeal for the State of California issued its opinion affirming the Orange County jury’s verdict awarding Deanna Fogarty-Hardwick approximately $4.9 million against the County of Orange, and two of its social workers, and affirming the trial court decision awarding attorney’s fees.
In its opinion, the Court of Appeal voiced its concerns over what happened to Ms. Fogarty-Hardwick: “Stated plainly, the outcome of this case cannot be dismissed as merely the unfortunate product of a runaway jury. The evidence adduced at trial obviously caused both the jury and the judge to conclude not only that something seriously wrong was done to Fogarty-Hardwick in this case, but also that the wrongful conduct was not an isolated incident. That conclusion is something the County should be taking very seriously.”
San Diego Lawyer Shawn A. McMillan, of the Law Offices of Shawn A. McMillan, was lead counsel in the case, both at trial and on appeal. Attorney Sondra S. Sutherland was co-counsel. The Law Offices of Donnie R. Cox (Dennis Atchley an Donnie R. Cox) assisted with the appeal.
For additional information, contact:
Shawn A. McMillan, Esq.
THE LAW OFFICES OF SHAWN A. McMILLAN, A.P.C.
4955 Via Lapiz
San Diego, California 92122
Telephone: (858) 646-0069
Facsimile: (206) 600-4582