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JUDGE UPHOLDS DENIAL OF WILDS PROGRAM LICENSE

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Human Services licensing officials had the right to deny the license of a youth wilderness therapy program "solely on the basis of pending criminal charges" filed against owners and employees.

That was the decision of Stephanie M. Castro, administrative law judge, on a challenge issued by North Star Expeditions Inc. against the Office of Licensing in the Department of Human Services. Oral arguments were heard Dec. 2, and Castro issued her ruling late Friday afternoon.According to state law, she ruled, the Office of Licensing may deny, condition, suspend or revoke a license for "allegations or investigations of abuse, neglect or exploitation," among other reasons.

Last March 31, 16-year-old Aaron Bacon collapsed and died while he was participating in the Escalante-based North Star program. Cause of death was a perforated ulcer and peritonitis.

In October, charges of abuse or neglect were filed against owners/operators Lance Jagger and Bill Henry and seven of their employees in connection with Bacon's death. Most of the charges are third-degree felonies.

North Star attorneys David Sonnenreich and Sheldon G. Wellins argued that allowing the state to refuse a license solely on the basis of allegations or investigations "would put people out of business and cause harm" even if there was no reason.

But assistant attorney general Carol Verdoia that state law clearly gives Licensing the right to deny a license based on investigations and allegations. The state would be negligent if it didn't, she said.