Free Speech on the line in effort to allow parents to speak out on caseworker abuses in child fatality and serious abuse cases
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Contact: Jessica K. Peck, 720.628.5756
Tom Kelley: 303.807.7612
December 9, 2019
DENVER—Jessica K. Peck, a Denver family law and child welfare attorney, is filing suit in federal court today, challenging a state law censoring her—and the grieving parents she represents—with the credible threat of jail over their continued efforts to hold child welfare workers accountable for alleged misconduct tied to investigations into the untimely deaths of young children and teens across Colorado.
Filing the case on Peck’s behalf is well known civil rights firm, Killmer, Lane, & Newman, LLP, with David Lane, the nationally recognized First Amendment expert, and Tom Kelley, former counsel to The Denver Post and the Colorado Press Association, at the helm.
Peck regularly handles high conflict family law and juvenile court matters. In recent years, she has been engaged in several high profile cases where she represents parents who’ve lost their children to murder, suicide, or irreversible injury.
In this capacity, Peck has come into contact with a multitude of caseworkers and other government workers involved in various capacities within the Department of Human Services’ (DHS) Child Protection Services’ (CPS) system.
At the center of the case, Peck is challenging C.R.S. 19-1-307, a Colorado statute intended to protect the privacy of children and parties contacted by CPS in county-level abuse investigations, or as named parties in more formal juvenile court cases alleging dependency and neglect. The statute also applies to criminal juvenile decency matters.
According to Peck, good intentions have given way to a system where CPS has unchecked power in far too many child abuse and death cases.
“Every time we lose yet another kid to preventable violence, we must start asking some very serious questions,” said Peck. “Too often, CPS is the only source that gets to decide our answers. The agency operates in darkness, empowered to bully into silence the grieving families, reporters and lawyers who dare to question the agency’s role in any derogatory way.”
Of specific concern: while the statute allows for generous exchange of case information and CPS records by government agencies and contractors, it provides no means to allow parents to reveal information specific to caseworker misconduct, but for very limited exceptions, most typically only accruing after a child’s death by homicide. The statute does not allow for records release in those cases where a child dies by suicide.
Peck’s concern: the need to hold caseworkers accountable before children die. Under existing language, it is very difficult to make this happen.
In early 2019, Peck discovered material misconduct by a caseworker involved in two child fatality cases covered by local and national media. After speaking with Westword reporter Mike Roberts about specific concerns, she was hit with a court order threatening prosecution for any further communications with reporters.
“It was, in fact, only because of this interview that we believe the caseworker in question was removed from the (only still active) case,” said Peck. “My client may have lost her child had we not spoken out. The Fourth Estate is critical to protecting my clients’ interests and without journalists, we’re doomed.”
For more specifics on the suit, see the Complaint and the gag order, click here.
“This statute we are attacking is a bureaucrat’s dream, shielding those responsible for protection of our children from all meaningful accountability,” said Kelley. “In the process, it tramples the free speech rights of those who would expose official lapses, incompetence and wrongdoing.”
According to Peck and her attorneys, the case has far reaching implications, beyond fatal child abuse cases, in a state where more than 80,000 referrals for child abuse and neglect are made to local CPS units across the state every year. According to the Child Welfare League of America, around 30,000 of these referrals lead to CPS investigations, with about 10,000 of these investigations leading to findings of abuse and neglect.
View the Federal Court Complaint below: