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In a harsh and sarcastic ruling on Wednesday, a Los Angeles appeal court castigated L.A. County social workers for massive foul-ups that led to the improper termination of an Indiana man’s parental rights to three of his four daughters. Second District Court of Appeal Justice Miriam Vogel took no steps to rein in her anger over the fact that two of the girls have been adopted out and a third was set for adoption because of the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services’ inept five-year search for their father, Vincent Scroghan, after their drug-abusing mother was declared an unfit parent. Scroghan had been living in Indianapolis the whole time, and had been sending support payments to the L.A. County district attorney’s Bureau of Family Support Operations since 1996. “But,” Vogel wrote, “the left hand didn’t know what the right hand was doing or how to spell.” The agency, she said, had searched for Scroghan “lackadaisically” — only in California, although there were several people who knew he was in Indianapolis — and under the spellings of Scriggab and Scriggag. Other agencies also misspelled the name as Scroggin, Scriggans, Scroggan, Schrogan and Scrogham. “Without a blush or even a wince,” Vogel wrote, “the department contends here, as it did in the dependency court, that its search for the wrong man in the wrong state was legally sufficient. It was not. We find the department’s conduct inexcusable and so very, very sad under these circumstances. “As it stands,” the justice continued, “all Vincent wants is an opportunity to be heard with regard to his rights vis-a-vis the two girls who have not yet been adopted. He is entitled to that much.” The scathing ruling came down one day after oral argument — which Scroghan’s lawyer indicated was pretty rough for her opponent. Though Vogel said it was too late for Scroghan to do anything about the youngest girls — Miranda and Mary — who have been adopted, the justice reversed a ruling terminating his parental rights to his second-oldest daughter, Megan, and ordered the lower court to determine his status with Ashley, the oldest child. Justices Vaino Spencer and Reuben Ortega concurred, but with Spencer pointedly concurring “in the judgment only.” Scroghan, who had been unable to locate his children but assumed they were with his estranged wife all along, had written letters to the kids’ last address and called his former relatives, but never reached anyone. He kept sending child support payments whenever he could afford to do so, but even the appeal court justices said they have no idea what the child services agency has done with the money. On Wednesday, a delighted Scroghan said by telephone from the Indianapolis home he shares with his new wife, Jessica, that he felt great. “It’s been a long time, ya know,” he said. “I feel like they done me wrong. When she lost the kids, they should have automatically come to me, and they didn’t. I think about them every day.” Scroghan, who does floor care at Indianapolis International Airport, said he eagerly wants Ashley and Megan to join him, his wife and his two latest daughters, ages 3 and 4. But he said he’s not giving up on reuniting with the two daughters who were adopted out. “They told me it was too late to get them,” he said. “But I am going to see about trying to get them back.” Justice Vogel noted that Scroghan had contacted Los Angeles social workers two days after they finally tracked him down by mail. “He and Jessica,” Vogel said in a footnote, “are ready and able to care for Megan and Ashley, and would welcome them into their family.” She also said the facts of the case “demonstrate both the department’s incremental ineptitude and the reason for our reversal.” Vogel also said that future dependent families “are entitled to an assurance that the department will examine its procedures and take steps to ensure that Child Support Services is contacted whenever a parent is missing, and contacted again at reasonable intervals until the parent is located or the case is closed.” Senior Associate Los Angeles County Counsel Arezoo Pichvai, who represented the social workers agency, couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday. Tyna Orren, the partner at Pasadena’s Orren & Orren who represented Scroghan, called the court’s decision wonderful. “The Department of Children and Family Services is severely overburdened and overworked,” she said, “but that was no excuse for what happened here. “A lot of pain has been caused by their negligence,” she continued. “I hope the family can be repaired at this point. Obviously, the greatest efforts are going to be put forth — or one would hope.” The text of the published opinion in In re Megan P., B156286, will appear in Friday’s California Daily Opinion Service.

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