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State granted extension to respond to foster care lawsuit

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Representatives for the state of West Virginia have been granted an extension to respond to a lawsuit filed earlier this month alleging the state has neglected the more than 6,000 children in the state’s foster care system.

U.S. District Judge Thomas Johnston has given the state until Dec. 2 to respond to the lawsuit.

The state has hired Washington, D.C.-based law firm Brown and Peisch PLLC to defend against the lawsuit. According to its website, the firm represents clients in litigation and regulatory matters relating to federally funded health and benefit programs, including Title VI, which provides funding for foster care.

“A request for proposal was issued by DHHR to secure outside counsel for the suit. There were five bidders, and DHHR narrowed the selection to those with experience with this type of litigation and picked the firm with the lowest bid. Brown and Peisch PLLC of Washington, D.C., was selected. Their bid was $575 per hour,” said Allison Adler, communications director for DHHR.

Caroline Brown and Phillip Peisch worked on a 2015 lawsuit against the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources that alleged the way the state ran the Medicaid Intellectual/Developmental Disabilities waiver program violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.

That case was officially dismissed with prejudice by Johnston after a settlement was reached, according to court documents.

The current lawsuit was filed by A Better Childhood, a national advocacy group for children; Disability Rights West Virginia, a statewide disability rights organization; and Shaffer & Shaffer PLLC, a state law firm.

Lawyers for the 12 children named in the lawsuit cite a range of statistics and charge the state and DHHR with failing to provide the necessary services that will protect all of the children in the state’s custody. The lawsuit is brought as a class action, seeking to represent all of the children in foster care, and focuses on three subclasses of children: those in foster care with disabilities, those close to aging out of the system without any preparation for adulthood, and children in kinship care.

In a response to media, DHHR Secretary Bill Crouch said the state has been making strides to fix the problems of the foster care system since 2013 and the lawsuit would cost the state millions to defend.

Marcia Robinson Lowry, executive director of A Better Childhood, said she was surprised to hear the state hired counsel from outside of the state to defend the lawsuit. With more than 10 similar cases under her belt, she said she’s never seen that happen. States usually use the attorney general or counsel in state, she said.

Follow reporter Taylor Stuck on Twitter and Facebook @TaylorStuckHD.

Funerals for Thursday, November 21, 2019

Bias, Kenneth - 7 p.m., Evans Funeral Home & Cremation Services, Chapmanville.

Carrow, Mildred - 1 p.m., Marmet Memorial Gardens, Marmet.

Coleman, Aaron - 1 p.m., Cooke Funeral Home Chapel, Cedar Grove.

Fore, George - 7 p.m., Keller Funeral Home, Dunbar.

Midkiff, Cleo - 2 p.m., Bartlett-Nichols Funeral Home, St. Albans.

Outman, Roxine -  2 p.m., Hafer Funeral Home, Elkview.

Shamblin, Cathy - 7 p.m., Christ Community Church, Scott Depot.