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MINEOLA, N.Y. � A couple whose children were taken from their custody allegedly by mistake cannot pursue their children’s claims pro se against Nassau County, a judge has ruled. Finding that the children’s best interest would not be met if their parents represented them in the lawsuit, Nassau County Supreme Court Justice Bruce D. Alpert held that the children were the real parties in interest to the lawsuit entitled to their own lawyer. The decision will be published Monday. In Compass v. Nassau County, 10250-03, the judge denied Neal and Hilda Compass’ application for late notice relief without prejudice and “strongly urge[d]” them to reconsider their decision to pursue the action without counsel. The ruling arose from an alleged mishandling of a urine sample taken from the couple’s 3-year-old girl at Nassau University Medical Center in April 2002. The parents allege that the hospital detected semen in a urine sample that was mislabeled as belonging to the child. The hospital subsequently reported the sample to the Nassau County Department of Social Services as evidence of sexual assault. A few days later, county officials removed the girl and her two siblings from the parents’ custody. The county also began neglect and abuse proceedings against the Compasses. Six months later, Nassau County withdrew the proceedings, at the urging of the county attorney’s office, and returned the children to their parents, the judge’s Feb. 26 decision said. In January 2003, the parents filed a notice of claim against the county, its department of social services, Nassau University Medical Center and Nassau Health Care Corp. They asserted malicious prosecution and defamation claims against the defendants, and on behalf of the three children they asserted false imprisonment. Further, derivative claims for loss of services, companionship, love and affection were raised by or on behalf of all five members of the family. At that time of service, the parents were represented by counsel. However, when they filed the summons, the couple was representing themselves and their children. Although Justice Alpert observed that adults have the right to self-representation, “despite all the pitfalls it entails,” he found no authority cited by the Compasses giving them the right or opportunity to represent a minor in legal proceedings. The judge turned to Judiciary Law �478, which states that only people admitted to practice can act as legal representatives to others. He further noted that violation of that statute is punishable as a misdemeanor. Children’s Best Interests The judge also looked to CPLR 1201, which states that while minors must appear by proxy in cases such as the one before him, the status of their representatives is that of a normal litigant. “That status does not, in this Court’s view, afford such individual the right to assume the role of a litigator in legal proceedings on behalf of the minor, the real party in interest,” he wrote. But the judge continued that whether the issue was analyzed under judiciary law or “the rubric of parens patriae,” the children’s best interests demanded their representation by an attorney. He also refused to allow the parents’ individual claims to go forward, saying that he declined to “entertain the application piecemeal.” Finally, the judge denied the county’s motion to dismiss the case, finding that the affidavit of service attached to the motion was not notarized. The Nassau County Attorney’s Office represented Nassau County. The law firm of Geisler & Gabriele in Garden City represented Nassau University Medical Center and Nassau Health Care Corp.

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