Now that a Fresno Superior Court judge has ended the deceit and delay game plan orchestrated by the Fresno County Board of Supervisors in the Seth Ireland case, it’s time to assess the damage to county officials.
For starters, Judge Jeffrey Hamilton on Jan. 14 imposed sanctions of $4,500 on the county for failing to hand over a county report that investigated what Child Protective Services did – and didn’t do – in the days, weeks and months before the 10-year-old Ireland was beaten to death by his mother’s boyfriend in 2009.
As The Bee’s Pablo Lopez reported in his Jan. 14 story, Hamilton’s court was the third court to order the county to release the report to lawyers representing Ireland’s father in a lawsuit against the county.
In September 2012, then-Superior Court Judge M. Bruce Smith made such an order. The county appealed and three years later, the 5th District Court of Appeal in Fresno declined to reverse the order, thus compelling the county to produce the report.
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The county’s contract lawyer for the case, James Weakley, again refused to hand over the report, thus leaving it to Hamilton to decide whether to enforce the appellate court’s action.
Not only did Hamilton order Weakley to give the report to lawyer Warren Paboojian, who is representing Joe Hudson, father of Seth, in the lawsuit, but he gave Weakley until Jan. 26 to have a redacted copy in the court file for public viewing.
Thanks to Hamilton, the public finally will learn the details of events leading up to Ireland’s tragic and likely preventable death. But it shouldn’t have required nearly four years and three courts for this to happen. That’s because after Seth’s death county officials promised that no stone would go unturned in examining the efforts of CPS workers to protect Seth and that the results of the investigation would be made public.
Not only did the Board of Supervisors stonewall the report’s release, the county did nothing extra in investigating Seth’s death. Indeed, the county merely did what is customary when a CPS client is hurt or killed: It assembled what is called a “child welfare quality assurance,” or QA, report.
Not that the county willingly acknowledged the existence of the report. It was not among the many documents the county provided to Hudson’s lawyers. In fact, Paboojian only learned of the QA report while deposing a county employee.
Wrote the appellate court in its opinion ordering that the report be given to Hudson:
“Bluntly stated, until the spring of 2012 defense counsel did not disclose the existence of the QA report or the specific privileges claimed to justify their decision not to produce the report. Therefore, we conclude that County forfeited its objections to the production of the QA report by failing to raise the privileges in a timely manner and, in addition, by concealing the fact there was a QA report.”
Think about it: Fresno County concealed the very existence of the report. Knowing this, how can any Fresno County resident have faith in its government to do the right thing?
If you think that our concerns are inflated, consider this: Hamilton also ordered Weakley to provide a declaration from a county Social Services official swearing that the QA report given to Paboojian is authentic.
When judges order government entities to produce documents, the expectation is that they will. In regard to Fresno County, however, a judge had so little confidence that officials would respond honestly that he ordered them to swear that what they hand over is the real thing – not something phony.
The Fresno County Board of Supervisors is in charge of all of the county’s legal cases. The board majority running this case should be ashamed of themselves.