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Judge: Court-appointed guardians can't be defendants

State House Bureau

December 04. 2017 11:44PM

NASHUA — A Superior Court judge has ruled that court-appointed advocates for two abused children cannot be included as defendants in a high-profile lawsuit filed by the children’s grandparents, now their adoptive parents.

“The court recognized that individual court-appointed guardians ad litem are immune from liability arising from the performance of their official duties because they are serving as an arm of the court,” said Carolyn Cote, a spokesman for Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of New Hampshire.

The court further stated that this immunity applies not only to individual CASA guardians ad litem, but also extends to the organization itself, because the organization is also serving a judicial function.

“The issue was thoroughly briefed by the parties and CASA of New Hampshire respects the court’s decision,” said Cote.

Bedford attorney Rus Rilee represents the adoptive parents of the two young girls, who suffered terrible sexual and physical abuse at the hands of their parents during unsupervised visits while their case was under the jurisdiction of the state Division for Children and Families with assistance from Easterseals and CASA.

The parents are now serving jail time and the grandparents want the facts of the case made public in an open trial, with DCYF, CASA and Easterseals as defendants.

Rilee says he plans to appeal the court order exempting CASA from the case.

“CASA is a private, independent organization that raises money to employ people to train and supervise volunteer guardians ad litem. CASA is not appointed by the court, so it should not be immune when it fails to do its job and children are harmed as a result,” he said. “We intend to appeal this decision to the New Hampshire Supreme Court.”

In the same order, Superior Court Judge Gillian Abramson reaffirmed her April decision to overrule DCYF objections and allow the parents to have their case heard in open court, but agreed with DCYF that two categories of information will remain confidential: the names of any minors, even those who have since reached adulthood; and the names of people who reported instances of suspected child abuse and neglect.

The November rulings set the stage for the case to go to trial in 2018.

“This decision is a big win for this family, who has fought so hard for so long not only for their adoptive children, but for other children who find themselves entangled in the DCYF system,” said Rilee. “Confidentiality can now be waived, and the DCYF documents showing its failures, which have been secret for so long, can now be made public. In that respect, this decision helps to reform the DCYF system, which has been this family’s goal from the beginning of this process.”

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