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In the latest in a growing number of such judgments nationwide, a Chicago jury has ordered a social worker to pay $3.3 million to three children who were abused in foster care. The jury found that the worker’s failure to report or to stop the abuse amounted to a violation of their rights to due process. The case worker, Clifton Woodard, was the sole defendant at trial. But the verdict, if sustained, is to be paid by the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, under indemnification provisions. The lawsuit was filed against Woodard on behalf of Caroline, Mabel and Alexander A. by the Cook County Public Guardian, which represents children — including those abused or neglected — in juvenile court. BEATEN CHILDREN The children came into the foster care system in July 1994 when they were taken from their parents after their older siblings were subjected to physical abuse, said Public Guardian attorney Peter J. Schmiedel. Caroline, then 1, Alexander, 2, and Mabel, 8, were placed in the home of their paternal aunt, Cornelia Anderson. “Some time after that, the aunt’s boyfriend, Perry Robinson, moved in,” Schmiedel said. In February 1995, after their mother died, Robinson “began to brutalize Caroline and Alex,” Schmiedel said. “He would hit them with objects such as sandals or hangers, then he began using a back-scrubbing brush on them.” The abuse continued until August 1995, when the injuries were discovered and the children were hospitalized. Alexander and Caroline suffered from malnutrition, he said, and Mabel suffered emotional damage from witnessing the abuse. Robinson was imprisoned for 15 years for assault, he said, and the aunt was jailed for 10. The Guardian Office sued Woodard, the social worker assigned to the children’s case, contending that he should have reported and stopped the abuse. “Woodard claimed to have been visiting the children twice a month from the time Caroline was born, but he claimed he never noticed anything wrong with the children,” said Schmiedel. “There was not one piece of paperwork” supporting Woodard’s claims of visits, he charged. The theory of the case against Woodard was that his inaction — whether he never saw the children or saw them and failed to respond — was “a violation of the due process rights to safety while in the custody of the state,” Schmiedel said. The attorneys filed the action in federal court, citing 42 U.S.C. 1983. The children could not sue the state agency in federal court because the state has immunity, Schmiedel noted: “You have to sue an individual.” If Woodard made the visits, Schmiedel said, “you can infer knowledge of the abuse by the condition of the children. They couldn’t walk or talk. They were being tortured for months on end.” Mabel A. testified that the social worker never saw them after he dropped them off at the aunt’s home, the attorney said. If that’s true, he said, it was a civil rights violation as well, because “he knew he wasn’t doing anything to safeguard the children.” The Guardian lawyers, who included Patrick Murphy and Charles Gilbert, called Woodard to the stand in the trial. “He said he saw the children,” Schmiedel recalled. But under questioning, “he had no explanation why he had no notes on these visits.” The children were never provided any services while in foster care, such as immunizations or doctors’ visits, he said. The plaintiff called one of Woodard’s supervisors during the trial. “She started off as an adverse witness, then admitted that she never knew of another case where no services were provided” for children who were in foster care for more than a year, he said. Woodard’s attorneys contended that he was not responsible for the abuse. He was represented by Illinois assistant attorneys general Ronald Stearney and Mary Nagel. The defense contended that whatever the lack of attention to the children, it did not meet the Illinois standard for finding public workers liable. “Whatever happened, it did not rise to the level of deliberate indifference,” said Stearney. The state also contended there was no civil rights violation, because the children had “no right to monitoring” by the caseworker. A Chicago jury awarded the children $3.3 million. The state’s attorneys, on behalf of Woodard, are filing post-trial motions to set aside the verdict as a matter of law, contending the evidence did not meet the “deliberate indifference” standard, said Stearney. Mabel A. v. Woodard, No. 97 C 1634 (N.D. Ill.).

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