Texas Child Protective Services has dropped its appeal of a $127,000 sanctions case against it (Houston Chronicle, 5/16/19). I first wrote about the case here.
Last July, little Mason Bright, then five months old, fell forward and hit his head on the driveway. His mother, Melissa, took him to Texas Children’s Hospital where doctors found two skull fractures and what seemed abnormal bleeding on his brain. That spurred a “child abuse pediatrician” to say that abuse of Mason must have been the cause. Later, better-informed medical opinions said that Mason had a rare clotting disorder that could explain the bleeding and that it’s not unusual for such a fall to cause more than one fracture.
But CPS had already acted. They took Mason from his parents, Melissa and Dillon Bright, and placed him 40 miles away with a relative. That arrangement didn’t work out and soon Mason was back with his parents. The Brights had understood that his placement with the relative was temporary, so, when a caseworker contacted them to ask how the little boy was, they happily responded with updated medical information and happy-child photos.
All was well for over three weeks.
Then suddenly, CPS appeared at the Brights’ door and took Mason into foster care. After a lapse of 22 days, they’d gone to Judge Michael Schneider and demanded an emergency hearing, at which they demanded an order taking the child from his parents.
When the Brights were finally allowed their day in Schneider’s court and informed the judge what CPS had done, Schneider was none too pleased. Among other things, he called CPS’s actions “illegal, fraudulent and unreasonable,” and ordered it to pay the Brights and their attorneys $127,000 in sanctions.
That was six months ago. CPS appealed and has now dropped that appeal. Why? That’s uncertain, but a good guess has little to do with the boilerplate claims by CPS spokesperson Patrick Crimmins.
“With so many other CPS cases pending in Harris County that demand our attention, we have decided to forgo an appeal and to focus our attention on those children and families, and their needs,” said agency spokesman Patrick Crimmins. “We will have no additional comment on this matter.”We’d all like to believe that, but there’s another, more likely explanation.
Had the court of appeals ruled against them it could have set a precedent that would make it easier for other families to win sanctions in similar cases.When Judge Schneider first hit CPS with the sanctions, the agency’s lawyers claimed he had no power to do so. What their theory was at the time was unclear. But what now seems apparent is that the judge exercised his authority appropriately and CPS doesn’t want an appellate court so stating. The court in question governs the district courts of the City of Houston, the state’s largest city. So CPS’s leeway with parents would be officially hamstrung throughout that population. More importantly, other appellate courts throughout the state might follow the Houston’ court’s lead. CPS preferred to keep its head down and out of sight to the extent possible.
Sadly, the cynical view is the one that sounds most accurate to me. Texas CPS doesn’t have the most savory reputation in the state, a fact made concrete by Federal Judge Janis Jack’s scathing opinion and order against the agency almost three years ago. Attorneys for the Brights are similarly dismayed.
But the agency still hasn’t admitted wrongdoing, a fact that irked the family and their attorneys.
“To this day, they just can’t admit that they screwed up — to me that’s the saddest part for all of the children in Harris County,” said Stephanie Proffitt, one of the attorneys representing Melissa and Dillon Bright. “They could have at least said we may have messed this one up and we’ll do better next time. Instead they’re basically taking no responsibility. Shame on them.”To be clear, whatever the medical facts of Mason’s injury, CPS went to court claiming an emergency when there plainly was none. Mason had lived with his relative for a time and been back home safe and sound with his parents for 22 days, a fact known to and documented by CPS. The idea that there was an emergency such that no notice of the court hearing had to be given to the Brights is patent nonsense. Had they received notice, they could have appeared (as they later did) and produced evidence that Mason was healthy and in good medical condition (as they later did). That’s precisely what CPS didn’t want, so it declared a fraudulent emergency to bypass the parental rights of the Brights and their little boy.
Judge Schneider has been angered by CPS for that very behavior in the past and with good reason. Given CPS’s attitude about the Bright case, we shouldn’t be too surprised when another judge somewhere levies sanctions against the agency.