A juvenile court judge has ordered sanctions against the Division of Family Services for failing to comply with a court order.
Seventh District Juvenile Judge Scott N. Johansen sentenced unnamed state employees to 20 days in the Grand County Jail for contempt of court, then stayed that order on a day-to-day basis for the duration of his jurisdiction over the matter.The court had previously ordered the division (now called Division of Child and Family Ser-vices) to provide guardian ad litem Craig Bunnell with all the information it had regarding a child he represents. Johansen agreed with Bunnell that the state child-welfare agency had not complied.
Johansen issued a biting 14-page memorandum decision in which he referred to "the utter failure of DFS to comply with the rules of discovery."
He also ordered all the documents presented to him by the division and the attorney general for inspection be given to the guardian ad litem as a "Rule 11" sanction.
Rule 11 requires an attorney to sign a pleading and says that signature certifies that to the best of the attorney's knowledge the content of the pleading is true and the attorney believes there's a legitimate reason for filing it. The rule provide for sanctions against the attorney if the court concludes that wasn't the case.
Rule 11 sanctions, he noted, "should be reserved for only the most egregious instances of misconduct. Nevertheless, the court is astounded by the baseless assertions made in each of the two pleadings bearing Assistant Attorney General (Linda) Luinstra's signature and, for the first time ever, finds that Rule 11 has been violated."
Luinstra declined to comment.
Johansen wrote, "It is clear beyond a reasonable doubt that individuals within DFS knew what the court order compelling discovery was, had the ability to comply and willfully failed to do so. The court therefore finds it reasonable to use the contempt sanction with a fine of $200 and 20 days in the Grand County Jail, both of which shall be stayed on a day-to-day basis throughout the continuing jurisdiction of the court over this child and contingent upon cooperation by DFS, the AG and individuals therein with the guardian ad litem in obtaining full disclosure of information requested and other matters pertaining to this case."
A central issue in the decision is an internal investigation by the Department of Human Services of the Moab child welfare office operations. Following a variety of complaints about the office, at least two key officials were reassigned. "The Moab report," as it has become known, will be released next week, in unredacted form (except for the names of the children), according to Human Services Executive Director Rod Betit.
A member of the monitoring panel assigned to see whether the division is protecting children as required by the terms of a settlement agreement accused the division of a cover-up in February. Sherianne Cotterell claimed that the "redacted" version of the report came to completely different conclusions than the original.
After reading the reports, Johansen apparently agreed.
"By the time several drafts had been edited and filtered and politicized to a final report. . . . Findings and recommendations in the final report have been so whitewashed as to make it nearly meaningless."
Betit said release of the report will let people draw their own conclusions about whether the state has taken complete action to resolve problems in the Moab child protection system. He said the division has not been trying to hide problems but rather was trying to protect the confidentiality of informants who provided sensitive information.
"Judge Johansen continues to assert there's some appearance of a cover-up," Betit said. "The only way to clear it up . . . is to let people see all the reports.
"They can draw their own conclusions about whether we took appropriate action and put Moab on solid footing again. I think we have."
Johansen said that in addition to Luinstra, regional DFS director McCord Marshall, Services Review Bureau Director John Abbott or DFS Director Mary Noonan may also be in contempt of court.
Johansen has given Bunnell 30 days to identify who he thinks should be cited for contempt. The judge will also allow Luinstra, Abbot, McCord and Noonan to tell him who should be cited for violating court rules that fall short of contempt.
If the four don't, Johansen said they shall be ordered to personally split and pay court costs and Bunnell's legal fees incurred in trying to get the information Bunnell wanted.