CHICAGO (July 14, 2008) — McDermott Will & Emery is pleased to announce that a settlement agreement mandating top-to-bottom reform and federal court oversight of Michigan's long-failing child welfare system has been reached in the federal class action litigated against state officials by the national advocacy group Children's Rights and a team of attorneys from McDermott Will & Emery and local counsel Kienbaum Opperwall Hardy & Pelton. The settlement, to be submitted for preliminary court approval, would resolve the lawsuit known as Dwayne B. v. Granholm, filed in 2006 on behalf of the approximately 19,000 abused and neglected children in the custody of Michigan's Department of Human Services (DHS).
The Dwayne B. federal class action charged the state with violating the constitutional rights of thousands of children in its custody by failing to protect their safety and well-being and find them permanent homes. An earlier proposed settlement negotiated in early 2007 was abandoned by the state in May of that year, sending plaintiffs into preparations for trial.
On the eve of trial, the parties entered into the court-enforceable agreement that requires DHS to establish a Children's Services Administration dedicated exclusively to providing protection, treatment, and services to children in state custody and those who have been reported for abuse or neglect. The agency must take aggressive action to move more than 6,000 children who cannot return home into safe, stable, permanent homes; improve investigations of reported child abuse and neglect; reduce the occurrence of maltreatment in foster care placements; recruit and retain an adequate group of potential foster and adoptive parents; and provide adequate medical, mental health, and dental care to children in state custody. The state's progress in complying with the agreement will be overseen by a monitor who will report to the federal court.
The settlement agreement must be presented to the federal judge for approval at a fairness hearing to be scheduled.
The McDermott trial team was led by Boston partner Edward P. Leibensperger, with assistance from Boston associate Kevin M. Bolan.
"Over the years, McDermott lawyers have taken on hundreds of pro bono cases where we have achieved dramatic results for individual clients. This pro bono victory achieved far ranging results that will affect the lives of tens of thousands of children for years to come. This is one of the most important pro bono victories we have ever achieved," commented Jeffrey E. Stone, head of McDermott's Trial Department.
"This is a major victory for the abused and neglected children of Michigan, who will now stand a much better chance of receiving the care and protection they deserve and desperately need," said Edward P. Leibensperger, partner in McDermott Will & Emery.
"We have reached a critical milestone in this campaign to correct the injustices that abused and neglected children in Michigan's custody have lived with for too long," said Sara Bartosz, senior staff attorney for Children's Rights and lead counsel on the case. "The reforms required by this settlement will ensure that they receive at last the care and protection that all children are guaranteed under the Constitution and under the law."
Children's Rights is a national watchdog organization advocating on behalf of abused and neglected children in the United States. Since 1995, Children's Rights has used legal action and policy initiatives to drive lasting reform in child protection, foster care, and adoption. For more information visit http://www.childrensrights.org.
McDermott Will & Emery recognizes and appreciates the need to give back to the communities of which it is a part, assisting those who are unable to afford legal services. It strongly encourages its lawyers and staff to participate in pro bono activities, volunteer services and charitable activities. Its Pro Bono & Community Services Committee seeks to ensure that the same Firm standards of quality, service and care that are given to its paying clients are also afforded to those it serves on a pro bono basis. A major part of McDermott's pro bono program is its Kids First program, a Firm-wide initiative that provides at-risk children across the United States and abroad with legal representation for a variety of needs, including special education, school access and registration, school discipline, guardian ad litem services for children in the abuse and neglect system, and law reform and legislative policy. The people of McDermott Will & Emery understand their unique obligations as lawyers to enhance the lives of those in need and are committed to ensuring that low-income and disadvantaged individuals have access to justice.