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Over the last decade, large-firm litigator Anne Auten has spent much of her legal career defending corporate America. Now she’s about to become a plaintiffs’ lawyer-for 6,000 foster children in Nebraska. Auten, partner in the Chicago office of DLA Piper Rudnick Gray Cary-a global powerhouse with 2,900 attorneys-is one of many private attorneys assisting in a recent federal civil rights lawsuit charging the state of Nebraska with failing to provide safe and proper care for thousands of foster children. Carson P. v. Heineman, No. 4:05-CV-03241 (D. Neb.). National and local civil rights lawyers filed the suit recently in federal court, but not without contacting a range of private attorneys to see if they would be interested in offering their legal expertise. Several firms, big and small, said yes. “I can’t imagine a group that’s more important than children-and children that are in a bad situation,” said Stanley Adelman, pro bono partner at DLA Piper Rudnick who agreed to offer his firm’s help in the lawsuit. Adelman explained that, earlier this year, a child’s advocate contacted one of the partners at DLA Piper Rudnick-the two had worked together after law school-and asked if the firm might help in the foster care lawsuit. Eventually, the request came before Adelman, who felt it was a worthy cause. Auten, who will bring her class action expertise to the table, agrees. “It gives the lawyers here the opportunity to be able to work on larger matters that can really make a difference in the lives of people,” Auten said. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of five children who allegedly suffered physical and psychological harm while in the state’s custody, and as a class action on behalf of more than 6,000 foster children. The suit charges Nebraska with failing to address long-standing funding problems and staff shortages within the foster care system, and with allowing kids to get stuck in foster homes for years with little hope of a permanent home. Officials with the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office, which is defending the state in the lawsuit, were unavailable for comment. The governor’s office declined to comment. The Nebraska Health and Human Services System, another defendant in the case, also declined to comment on the specifics of the suit, but it did say that a plan is under way to improve foster care in the state. Other firms involved in the class action include: Ogborn, Summerlin & Ogborn of Lincoln, Neb.; Cline, Williams, Wright, Johnson & Oldfather of Lincoln; Woods & Aitken of Lincoln; and McGrath North Mullin & Kratz in Omaha, Neb.

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