UPDATE, APRIL 26, 11:52 A.M.: You might assume--wrongly, it turns out--that lying to a juvenile court commissioner so a woman's two daughters would be taken away from her for years would cost two County of Orange social workers their jobs.
Even if you didn't believe those workers lied after the first court judgment, surely you'd see the light after the highest court in the land agreed with previous court rulings and the $4.9 million judgment in favor of Seal Beach mom Deanna Fogarty-Hardwick (pictured), right?
Wrong. One worker was even promoted and now trains other Orange County social workers.
Kimberly Edds makes that shocking revelation in the Orange County Register.
Orange County, state appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court all agreed Orange County Social Services agents Marcie Vreeken and Helen Dwojak filed false reports and suppressed evidence that would have exonerated Fogarty-Hardwick when an order removing the girls, ages 6 and 9, and detaining them was obtained from a county commissioner in 2000.
Vreeken and Dwojak not only were never disciplined, Vreeken's supervisor Dwojak was allowed to retire with full benies intact in 2006. Vreeken was later promoted and now trains others in Social Services.
Agency director Michael Riley tells Edds he still believes neither employee fabricated their stories, suppressed evidence or did anything wrong at all. Otherwise, Riley claims, he would have fired them.
ORIGINAL POST, APRIL 20, 10:40 A.M.: The U.S. Supreme Court denied a challenge of a $4.9 million jury verdict against Orange County and two of its social services agents who lied to a juvenile court judge so two girls could be taken away from their mother.
Seal Beach's Deanna Fogarty-Hardwick, who filed suit in February 2001 alleging the defendants violated her civil rights, was separated from her daughters for six and one half years.
If Lifetime has not made a movie out of this already, it should.
Orange County Social Services agents Marcie Vreeken and Helen Dwojak filed false reports and suppressed evidence that would have exonerated Fogarty-Hardwick when an order removing the girls, ages 6 and 9, and detaining them was obtained from a county commissioner in 2000.
The girls were then placed in Orangewood Children's Home and, later, foster care. Fogarty-Hardwick was coerced into signing a "voluntary agreement" waiving parental rights unless Social Services had reasonable evidence that the child was in danger. She was then allowed monitored visits with her daughters while they were in the county's care.
Fogarty-Hardwick's ex-husband was given custody of the children in 2002, and she was given visitation two weekends a month. When the girls became teens, Fogarty-Hardwick obtained joint custody.
However, all along she had to fight for custody in courts. She first filed suit claiming her civil rights were violated by the county and its social workers in 2002, but an Orange County Superior Court jury found against her.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
In a second suit, Fogarty-Hardwick alleged the county's policies violated her rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. A civil jury voted 10-2 in 2007 that Fogarty-Hardwick's right to raise her children free of governmental interference had been violated. She was awarded more than $4.9 million in what was then one of the largest verdicts of its kind in the state and perhaps the nation.
But the county Board of Supervisors appealed in May of that year on grounds the jury verdict was unfair. In June 2010, the state appeals court in Santa Ana affirmed the jury's decision, as did the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday. The highest court in the land also affirmed $1.6 million in attorneys' fees for Fogarty-Hardwick's legal team from the Law Offices of Shawn A. McMillan of San Diego.
Among the County of Orange policies that violated Fogarty-Hardwick's constitutional rights were: detaining the children without making a finding of imminent danger or serious physical injury; interviewing them without a parent present; holding them without cause; fabricating evidence; and failing to train employees properly about parents' constitutional rights.
As one of the appellate justices put it last June, Orange County has a serious problem.