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U.S. District Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle couldn’t hide her frustration during the latest hearing in a never-ending 31-year-old class action that has done little to protect the health and safety of almost 2,000 developmentally disabled residents under the District’s care. While the case drags on, many of the District’s most vulnerable residents continue to suffer neglect, abuse, poor medical care, or preventable deaths while under the supervision of the D.C. Department of Disability Services. “I want to see some changes on the ground now,” Huvelle said about the DDS at an Aug. 9 status hearing. “I am tired of not getting anything done. We’ll all be probably long gone by the time the litigation ends.” Huvelle — who for more than six years has presided over the class action now called Evans v. Fenty — peppered D.C. officials with questions while resting her head in her hands during the two-hour hearing at the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. She threatened to throw Peter Nickles, Mayor Adrian Fenty’s general counsel, and DDS compliance officer Kathy Sawyer in jail for contempt of court if Fenty’s plan to reform the agency doesn’t start producing results. “Think about that for a little while. Just think about it,” Huvelle said. “You’ll see jail is not a friendly place. I’m quite serious about it.” Huvelle didn’t follow through on her threat, but she said Fenty’s reform plan focuses more on process than results and still may not bring the District into compliance with court orders. The plan provides more than $1.5 million for consultants, additional training for DDS staff, and an effort to move 50 class members into transitional housing. “Is there anyone who can move it, who can take some responsibility?” Huvelle asked. In an 85-page order in March, Huvelle noted “the tortured history” of the case and found the D.C. government in “systemic, continuous, and serious noncompliance with many of the court’s orders.” Nevertheless, she has resisted placing the DDS under the independent control of a court-ordered receivership, a fate that befell several other dysfunctional D.C. agencies years ago. Sandy Bernstein, legal director of University Legal Services and co-counsel for more than 600 class members, said last week that the DDS needs to be placed into receivership now, after numerous remedial plans, consent decrees, and court orders haven’t improved the life-threatening conditions faced by many disabled residents. “This isn’t a case about widgets. This is a case about people’s lives,” Bernstein says. “I don’t think they should be given more time. When they are given more time, the class members suffer.” �NO SIGNIFICANT CHANGE’ After more than 30 years and five D.C. administrations, conditions haven’t improved for disabled residents under the District’s care. “There has been no significant change in health and safety,” court monitor Elizabeth Jones told Huvelle.
“The Tortured History” of the Evans v. Fenty Class Action

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