By Sheila Burke, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A Nashville judge on Friday said that after seeing case files of children who were killed as a result of abuse and neglect, it’s clear that some social workers with the state Department of Children’s Services should have done more to protect them and questioned whether the young victims would ever get justice.
“There have been balls dropped by several individuals,” Davidson County Chancellor Carol McCoy said at a hearing where she released 42 records of cases of children who died or nearly died after being under the supervision of DCS at some point earlier. In all, the documents totaled about 1,600 pages. An attorney for media organizations that sought the information was in the process of making copies for each outlet, so the files were not immediately available. But the judge said they were difficult to read.
“If you have children it just gets to you,” she said of the records. The judge did not describe any of the circumstances in the files that she said disturbed her.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The state Department of Children’s Services was ordered Wednesday to give the media records from the case files of 50 children who died or nearly died after the agency became involved with them.
Davidson County Chancellor Carol McCoy also ordered the state to bear the cost of redacting identifying information from the records. The media organizations will pay the cost of making copies.
In September, The Tennessean requested the records of all the children involved with DCS who had died or nearly died between 2009 and mid-2012. The state produced only bare-bones summaries and later acknowledged it did not know how many children had died during that period.
In December a group of media organizations, led by The Tennessean and including The Associated Press, sued for access to the records. McCoy in January ordered the state to redact and turn over records from four cases and to produce an estimate of the cost to redact records in the remaining 200-or-so cases.
The state first said it would cost more than $55,000 to produce the remaining records, but later reduced that to a little over $34,000.
At the Wednesday hearing, the media groups asked McCoy to expand which records the department has to turn over and to order DCS to waive the fee.
McCoy did grant a partial expansion of the records request and ordered that the media groups must pay only a 50-cent-per-page copying cost. She told DCS to produce records from the 50 most recent files for her review by May 3.
By Travis Lollar, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Tennessee Department of Children’s Services must provide to the public records of children who died or nearly died after the agency investigated reports they had been abused or neglected, a Nashville judge ruled Wednesday.
Chancellor Carol McCoy gave the department 10 days to redact confidential information from documents that serve as summaries for four specific cases. The records then must be turned over to 12 news media organizations that sued under Tennessee’s public records law. The media coalition was led by The Tennessean and included The Associated Press.
In ordering the disclosure of the redacted files, McCoy said she had to weigh competing priorities of protecting the privacy of abused children versus holding the state accountable when a child dies.
McCoy determined that a child’s right to privacy is diminished after the child dies and the more important concern becomes what the state did or did not do to try to prevent the death. Attorneys for the state had argued that DCS — which initially revealed only one line of information on the cases of 151 children who died and 55 who suffered near fatal injuries since 2009 — was prohibited by state law from releasing its records.
McCoy found that while the law does protect the privacy of children and families involved with DCS, the agency’s records relating to deaths and near fatalities are subject to the public records law.
A Nashville judge declined Wednesday to block enforcement of the state’s voter-photo identification law or to allow the Memphis Public Library’s new photo library cards to be valid for voting purposes.
From the Commercial Appeal: In declining to issue temporary or permanent injunctions sought by the plaintiffs, Davidson County Chancellor Carol McCoy ruled against efforts by the City of Memphis and two Memphis registered voters to either overturn the state law as an unconstitutional infringement on the right to vote, delay its enforcement until all qualified voters who want them can obtain valid photo IDs, or allow the library cards to be acceptable for voting.
Testimony in Wednesday’s three-hour hearing indicated there are still more than 90,000 registered voters in the state who have non-photo state-issued ID driver’s licenses that won’t be valid for voting, plus “tens of thousands more” — no one knows for sure how many — registered voters without a valid photo ID and who are not in the state’s photo ID database.
Attorneys for the City of Memphis said during the hearing that the losing side would appeal. But afterward, they said they’ll wait until McCoy issues her written order — finalizing the oral ruling she made after a three-hour hearing — before they decide whether to seek an expedited appeal. “We’ll have to discuss it with our clients. We would like to appeal,” said Nashville attorney George Barrett, representing the city.
“I’m very disappointed. Anytime the state infringes on the right to vote, they’re taking something away from us, and they’re taking something away from us in this instance. Let’s not fool around; everybody knows what’s going on. You have to have your head in the sand if you don’t. It’s been going on all over the country since 2010. To play like it’s something innocent to protect the ballot is nonsense.”
During his court arguments, Barrett’s co-counsel, Douglas Johnston, told the judge that photo ID requirements for voting have been enacted across the country in the last two years “because in 2008, African-Americans and young people and poor people came out in droves to vote. These are the people who these laws most impact.”
McCoy ruled that none of the three plaintiffs had standing to challenge the state statute in court because the city has no right to vote and therefore cannot “assert it has been harmed” by the act. She said evidence presented indicated that co-plaintiff Daphne Turner-Golden can vote; “all she has to do is obtain a photo ID at no charge, while plaintiff Sullistine Bell can either vote absentee without a photo ID or obtain one.