Delay tactics by Fresno County’s contract lawyer to stop the public from learning of mistakes made by Child Protective Services before the murder of 10-year-old Seth Ireland have exited the realm of the absurd and entered the land of the unconscionable.
At a Jan. 14 hearing, Fresno County Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Hamilton gave specific orders about an investigative report on Seth’s tragic death.
James Weakley, representing the county, was told to redact the names of social workers and other county employees named in the report and then place it in the court file, where it could be viewed by the public.
But when Weakley showed up in court Jan. 26, he submitted a heavily redacted version that gutted the report’s critical findings.
“I thought I was reading a top secret nuclear document,” Hamilton said in open court.
Attorney Warren Paboojian, who is representing Ireland’s father in a lawsuit against the county, anticipated that Weakley would do something like this, The Bee’s Pablo Lopez wrote in a story about the hearing.
Paboojian also turned in a redacted copy of the report. His copy omitted only the names of the social workers and county employees.
“In my opinion, this is what was discussed,” the judge said of Paboojian’s copy.
Hamilton then ruled that Paboojian’s redacted copy would be made public. But the judge told Weakley if he didn’t like his ruling, he could file a writ with the 5th District Court of Appeal. If Weakley doesn’t file the writ by Feb. 9, or if the appellate court refuses to hear it, then Paboojian’s redacted version will be made public Feb. 10, the judge said.
Given Weakley’s and the county’s previous refusals to make the report available to Paboojian until Hamilton ordered them to do so Jan. 14, we doubt that the county’s lawyer misunderstood Hamilton’s instructions.
The county was first ordered to provide the report to Paboojian in September 2012 by then-Superior Court Judge M. Bruce Smith. 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. In its opinion, the appellate court made no mention of redacting the report.
Weakley again refused to hand over the report, stating that the county might appeal to the California State Supreme Court. The county never filed such an appeal, but Weakley still didn’t deliver the report to Paboojian.
That left it to Hamilton to enforce the appellate court’s order. At that time, he also imposed sanctions of $4,500 on the county for previously failing to produce the report.
Ireland died in 2009 after a savage beating by his mother’s boyfriend. During that beating, his mother stood and watched – never once intervening to save her own child.
Afterward, Fresno County officials promised that the public would learn the truth about what happened. They have repeatedly broken that promise.
Seth should not have died. Warning signs abounded that there was something evil in Seth’s house. Social workers had received reports four months earlier that Seth was being abused. But Seth remained in the home, as did three younger boys.
A reasonable person can only conclude one thing: There are damning facts in that report, ugly facts that the Fresno County Board of Supervisors does not want the public to know. Those facts should be revealed so that fixes are made and other innocent children do not meet Seth’s fate.
It appears citizens finally will learn what happened Feb. 10.
Then again, there’s always a chance that the county will refuse to comply yet again. As this case has shown, Fresno County is more than willing to defy court orders and incur court sanctions to deny the public its right to know.
The Fresno County Board of Supervisors finally should do the right thing: Order Weakley to put the report in the court file.