In a Friday, October 9, 2009 hearing, a federal judge denied state and city requests to immediately end court oversight of Baltimore's foster care system because of concerns about underlying violations of the children's constitutional rights. The hearing was covered by the Associated Press and in multiple stories by the Washington Examiner, the Baltimore Sun and the Daily Record.
"This is a fantastic day for the kids in foster care," said Venable partner Mitch Mirviss in the Daily Record story.
Since the initial 1984 lawsuit challenging the adequacy of the city's foster care, the state and the children's advocates have wrangled over how to improve the system. For 21 years, the two sides have argued over the extent of Maryland's compliance with a 1988 consent decree, culminating in the advocates' 2007 motion asking a judge to find the state in contempt and enforce compliance. On June 23, 2009, both sides announced they had agreed on a new consent decree that would put the foster care system on the right track and end court oversight within 18 months.
In this most recent hearing, however, the state asked the U.S. District Court to consider whether a Supreme Court decision handed down June 25 means that the court does not have the power to enforce either the proposed new consent decree or the one that has been in effect since 1988.
Instead of granting the state's request, U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz signed an updated version of the decree. According to the Baltimore Sun article, unlike earlier versions, this decree offers an exit plan from supervision after 18 months of documented improvement.
"We've reached an agreement with the state about what should happen, but we need the decree to ensure that it does happen," said Mirviss.
Mirviss said the new decree for the first time requires independent verification of defendants' compliance data, which has been riddled with "substantial errors and inaccuracies" for years. It also requires the defendants to notify the plaintiffs of child injury, whereas before they "were not told even of fatal incidents involving our clients," Mirviss said.