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Judge Joseph L. Tauro, a giant in the treatment of the developmentally disabled, dies at 87

December 3, 2018 Leave a comment

Retired U.S. District Court Judge Joseph L. Tauro, who oversaw the upgrade of the institutional system of care for the intellectually and developmentally disabled in Massachusetts for decades starting in the 1970s, died on November 30 at the age of 87.

Tauro changed the course of history for persons with developmental disabilities in Massachusetts. His many rulings in the landmark Ricci v. Okin class action litigation over conditions in the institutional system in the 1970s and 1980s improved the lives of thousands.

Judge Tauro

The Honorable Joseph L. Tauro

“Judge Joseph L. Tauro treated developmentally disabled individuals and their families with dignity and compassion, and he listened when no one else would,” said Colleen Lutkevich, COFAR executive director. “In 1972 and for the next twenty years, he took a disgraceful system of care where people were warehoused in overcrowded facilities with minimal services, and he used the power of his office and the law to bully and cajole the state and federal government into doing the right thing.”

Tauro ruled in the case of Ricci v. Okin, a combined class-action lawsuit first brought by activist Ben Ricci over the conditions at the Belchertown State School.  Those conditions were chronicled in Ricci’s book, Crimes Against Humanity, and later in books such as You’ll Like it Here, a 2016 account  by Ed Orzechowski of the life of Donald Vitkus, a survivor of the former Belchertown State School.

In 1972, separate lawsuits were initially filed on behalf of the residents of five state schools: Fernald, Dever, Monson, Wrentham, and Belchertown. The lawsuits charged that the facilities were understaffed and that conditions in them were inhumane.

Tauro, who visited the facilities to observe the conditions first hand, noted two decades later in his 1993 disengagement order from the case that the legal process had resulted in major capital and staffing improvements to the facilities and a program of community placements. Together, those improvements and placements had “taken people with mental retardation from the snake pit, human warehouse environment of two decades ago, to the point where Massachusetts now has a system of care and habilitation that is probably second to none anywhere in the world.”

“Services in the facilities were turned around through increased funding and staffing,  and the community system of the Department of Developmental Services was also built, allowing appropriately placed residents to find new homes and jobs in cities and towns all across Massachusetts,” Lutkevich said.  “For those who remained in the facilities, their days also became meaningful, with clinical services, and therapeutic, recreational and work opportunities never before thought possible.”

Involvement in the effort in the 2000s to keep Fernald open

Despite his official disengagement from the Ricci case, Tauro’s involvement in the case did not end after 1993. Eleven years after his disengagement order, he went on to play a dramatic role in an effort by the original plaintiffs in the case to keep the then Fernald Developmental Center open in the face of attempts by the then Romney and later Patrick administrations to close it along with other remaining developmental centers in Massachusetts.

Ultimately, Tauro’s 2007 ruling in the case that the Fernald Center should remain as a residential option to its residents was overturned by the First Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.

The Appeals Court ruling dealt an enormous blow to the decades of work that Tauro had done in the Ricci case, in part, because the appeals court’s decision included no deference to Tauro’s rulings and expertise. Nevertheless, Tauro’s re-involvement in the case after 2004 demonstrated his caring and humanity as clearly as his earlier involvement had in the 1970s and 1980s.

Speaking about the residents of the Fernald Center during a November 2004 hearing in his courtroom on the potential reopening of the case, Tauro noted that many of those residents were elderly. “In the remaining moments of their lives,” he said, “they ought to be treated with great dignity.”  His remark drew strong applause from the close to 200 observers in the courtroom, many of whom were family members of the residents.

Successive administrations undercut Tauro’s rulings in the Ricci case

Efforts to chip away at Tauro’s legacy in the Ricci case began in the early 1990s under then Governor William Weld, who moved to close nine state-run human services facilities in Massachusetts, including three developmental centers serving the developmentally disabled.

Then in 2003,  then Governor Mitt Romney announced plans to close at least four of the six remaining state-run developmental centers. All of those facilities had undergone upgrades in care and conditions as a result of Tauro’s involvement in the Ricci litigation. Hundreds of millions of dollars had been spent on the upgrades.

Starting with Fernald, those remaining facilities slated for closure included the Glavin, Monson, and Tampleton centers.

Plaintiffs charge that Tauro’s disengagement order had been violated

In 2004, Beryl Cohn, an attorney for the original Ricci plaintiffs, charged that the Romney administration was trying to close Fernald in violation of Tauro’s 1993 disengagement order.  Cohen cited the administration’s planned closure of Fernald in conjunction with
“unprecedented” personnel reductions and budget cuts in the then Department of Mental Retardation system.

According to the plaintiffs, some 30 years after the Ricci class action lawsuit had been filed, the Romney administration had allowed a recurrence of some of the same conditions at certain of the state facilities that had sparked the original case, including insufficient staffing, lack of equipment, delayed maintenance,  infestation of vermin, and other problems.

Tauro’s disengagement order had also required that before anyone could be transferred out of a state-run facility, care in the new location must be certified as equal or better.

In July 2004, the then Fernald League and other plaintiffs filed a motion in U.S. District Court to seek Tauro’s renewed involvement in the Ricci case.

During a contentious hearing in his courtroom in November of 2004,  Tauro appeared to accept the argument that a rush to close Fernald and the other facilities without adequate plans for the welfare of their current residents could violate his disengagement order. He also noted that many communities had not accepted group homes for the developmentally disabled, and that it could be difficult to find placements for Fernald residents.

“What’s the advantage in hurrying to speed up the closing (of Fernald) if it’s going to speed up litigation that’s going to last for five years?” Tauro said in pointed remarks to counsel for the Department of Mental Retardation and DMR Commissioner Gerald Morrissey, who was in attendance. “I don’t know if I’ll accept this case. If I do, I’ll come up with a solution…Let’s get it done right so everyone applauds it.”

Tauro forbids discussions of transfers from Fernald 

In January 2005, Tauro stated that he was prepared to step back into the case if Cohen were to demonstrate that care and services to transferred individuals were being cut. He ordered DMR officials to provide Cohen with Individual Support Plans (ISPs) for all Fernald residents, including those who had been transferred elsewhere.

Over the next six months, Tauro continued to hold hearings. In June of that year, he warned the administration not even to discuss transferring residents out of Fernald with families unless the ISPs stated the moves were appropriate. “If there is no ISP in place, then
there will be no discussions on transfers (out of Fernald),” Tauro said, as DMR Commissioner Gerald Morrissey and his legal staff sat before him in the courtroom. “If that’s not going to happen, then we are going to have a little trouble.”

Tauro appoints U.S. attorney as court monitor in Fernald closure 

In February 2006, Tauro appointed then U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan as Court Monitor in the case and asked Sullivan to review the transfers by DMR of 49 residents from Fernald since 2003.  Pending the completion of Sullivan’s review, Tauro ordered a halt to all further transfers from Fernald to other locations.

In March 2007, in a stunning blow to the Fernald closure advocates, Sullivan recommended to the newly installed Patrick administration that Fernald remain open.

In making the recommendation that Fernald remain open, Sullivan maintained in his report to Tauro that while the level of care there might be able to be duplicated elsewhere, the loss of familiar surroundings and people “could have devastating effects [on the residents] that unravel years of positive, non­abusive behavior.” Nevertheless, Sullivan concluded that the state had followed the letter of Tauro’s 1993 disengagement order in that administration officials had technically certified that persons transferred from Fernald would receive equal or better care.

Sullivan also told Tauro that he found two areas of “significant concerns” in community-­based care. One involved the delivery of medical services in the community, and the second involved the potentially higher risk of abuse and neglect in community­-based residences than in the facilities and other state-­operated residences.

Final ruling that Fernald must be offered as a residential option

Despite Sullivan’s recommendation, the Patrick administration did not back away from the Romney administration’s position on the developmental centers, and continued to press ahead to close Fernald.

That led to Tauro’s final ruling in August 2007 that Fernald residents and their families and guardians must be offered the option of remaining at Fernald. The ruling was seen by the administration as preventing the closure of Fernald, and the administration appealed the ruling to the First Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.

Tauro’s final ruling is overturned

Without considering the merits of Tauro’s reasoning in his 2007 ruling, the three-judge federal appeals court panel ruled in October 2008 that Tauro never had jurisdiction to reopen the Ricci case. As such, the appeals court allowed the Patrick administration to proceed with Fernald’s closure. That closure, however, was not completed for another six years as more than a dozen families and guardians of the remaining residents exercised their right to administrative appeals of the transfers of the residents.

Tauro seals the records

After the First Circuit Court of Appeals overturned his 2007 ruling that Fernald remain as a residential option, Tauro closed the Ricci case and sealed the documents. Among those documents was a report that Sullivan had provided to Tauro on what appeared to be the involuntary removal from Fernald of Anna Tross,  a 91-year-old resident of the facility.

According to testimony at a March 2008 hearing held by Tauro into the circumstances surrounding Tross’s removal from Fernald, Tross had told several people that she didn’t want to leave Fernald.

Appeal to U.S. Supreme Court to restore Tauro’s Fernald order fails

In February 2009, the Fernald plaintiffs, represented by Hofstra University law professor Leon Friedman, filed a petition for Certiorari with the Supreme Court, seeking to restore Judge Tauro’s 2007 order keeping Fernald open as a residential option.

The petition also sought to resolve the issue of whether Appeals Courts should give deference to district court decisions in consent-decree cases.  In this instance, the First Circuit Court acknowledged that it had not given any deference to Judge Tauro, despite his 35 years of expertise in overseeing the Ricci case.

The Supreme Court declined without comment to issue a Writ of Certiorari to consider the Fernald plaintiffs’ appeal.

Created national models

The Boston Globe noted that in his 41 years on the bench, Tauro “crafted decisions that created national models not only for the care of the developmentally disabled, but also for the rights of the mentally ill to refuse unnecessary medication and avoid solitary confinement except in emergency situations.”

“Whatever powers the Constitution has granted our government, involuntary mind control is not one of them, absent extraordinary circumstance,’’ Tauro wrote in a decision in the 1970s that established what are known as “Rogers Orders,” protecting the rights of the mentally ill.

“Judge Tauro was a fearless judge and a moral humanitarian who made the ‘impossible’ possible,” Lutkevich said. “He nearly single-handedly changed the lives of thousands of individuals with intellectual disabilities and their families.  COFAR families are forever grateful to him.  May he rest in peace.”

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Father and sister will finally be allowed contact with disabled woman as 3-year DDS family-separation order is eased

November 13, 2018 2 comments

After three years, a state employed guardian is at least partially lifting a ban on family contact with a developmentally disabled woman, and is allowing the woman’s father and sister to visit her.

In a November 6 email to Ashley Barr, the disabled woman’s sister, Dorothy Wallace stated that she was granting permission to Ashley and to David Barr, the woman’s father, to visit the 30-year-old woman for the first time since November 2015. The woman has been diagnosed with an intellectual disability and mental illness.

Wallace has never clearly explained the reason for her family separation policy, which has nevertheless been upheld by the Department of Developmental Services. DDS pays Wallace to serve as a guardian to the woman and to other departmental clients.

Chelsea, David, and Ashley Barr

David and Ashley Barr. They have been prohibited, for unclear reasons, from contact with their developmentally disabled family member for the past three years.

In her email, Wallace wrote that she would now allow visits because the woman’s mother, Nancy Barr, has been sentenced in a criminal case involving the sexual assault of the disabled woman by Nancy Barr’s boyfriend, John Leone. Nancy and David Barr have been divorced since 2003.

Nancy Barr pled guilty on November 6 to sexual assault charges and was sentenced to two years in prison. Leone pled guilty to similar charges in May and is serving a three to five-year prison term. The sentencing of both Leone and Nancy Barr had repeatedly been delayed during the past year.

During the period of the assaults, the woman had been under the care of her mother and had been living in her mother’s home. David Barr said that Nancy has also been diagnosed with mental illness.

Neither David nor Ashley, nor any other members of the family were involved in the abuse of the disabled woman or were ever charged in the case.

Yet, for the past three years, Wallace prohibited all members of the family other than an aunt from having any contact with the woman, and had not even informed the family as to where she has been living. We are withholding the woman’s name because she was a victim of sexual assault.

Ashley, whose first visit with her sister following the lifting of the ban was today at a DDS area office, said her sister appeared alert and happy to see her and her father. Regular weekend visits will be scheduled for the foreseeable future at a group residence in Haverhill in which her sister is now living.

Ashley also said she intends to apply in court to become her sister’s guardian and that David is supporting her in that.

Ashley told COFAR that in the months prior to the November 2015 ban on visitation, her sister appeared drugged when they were allowed to visit her, and, in one instance, did not appear to have been bathed.

COFAR has repeatedly asked Wallace and DDS for an explanation for the family contact ban specifically on David and Ashley. In an email to both Wallace and DDS Commissioner Jane Ryder on November 9, I also asked what the sentencing of Nancy Bar, in particular, had to do with the family separation policy.

David and Ashley had been among the most involved family members in the woman’s life and care, and have led the family’s effort to resume contact with the woman. To date, neither Wallace nor Ryder have responded to our queries about the case.

In her November 6 email, Wallace implied that she is stepping down as the woman’s guardian, stating that, “With the completion of the sentencing (of Nancy Barr), I have fulfilled my obligation to (the disabled woman) and as promised to Ashley and Mr. Barr they can now coordinate visits with (the woman).”

We have never seen another case in which such a complete and lengthy prohibition on contact was imposed on family members who were not charged or, as far as we know, accused of any serious misconduct with regard to a disabled individual. As we’ve said before, we think this ban has been enforced in violation of DDS regulations, which state that people in the Department’s care have the right …“to be visited and to visit others under circumstances that are conducive to friendships and relationships…”

We think there is a fairly universal consensus that family separation in social services should be imposed only as a last resort, and then should be used sparingly and for as short a time as possible. If family separation is imposed, authorities should be transparent about it and communicate as much information as possible to those family members affected. In our view, none of those criteria were met in this case.

During the past three years, different reasons have been given to the Barr family for the separation policy:

  • In an August 2015 hearing in probate court, Wallace testified, according to the hearing transcript, that she was imposing restrictions on contact between the woman and her father and sister because David and Ashley became overly emotional when they had been allowed to visit her.
  • Wallace contended that those visits, which took place in hospital settings after the arrests of John Leone and Nancy Barr on the assault charges, caused the woman to exhibit psychotic symptoms afterwards.
  • Last February, Ashley was told by DDS General Counsel Marianne Meacham that there was concern on someone’s part that a visit from David and Ashley would somehow make the woman “lose focus” in preparing to testify in the trial of Leone and Nancy Barr. Meacham told Ashley that visits would be permitted once the trial, which was originally scheduled to be held in April, was over.
  •  Despite Attorney Meacham’s contention that the ban on family contact was related to the then ongoing criminal case, a spokesperson for the D.A.’s office told COFAR in February that the D.A. was not responsible for the ban, and that it had been ordered by Wallace.
  • And despite the assurances given to Ashley, visits with her sister were not scheduled even after Leone pled guilty to sexual assault last May. David and Ashley were now told they would not be allowed any contact with the woman until Nancy Barr was sentenced in the case. That sentencing occurred only last week.

DDS officials appeared to be biased against the family

As COFAR reported, Wallace and other DDS officials made a number of statements about Ashley and David during the August 2015 probate court hearing that appeared to indicate a bias against them.

Many of the statements appeared to be hearsay or to lack  foundation, including Wallace’s statement that hospital clinicians told her the woman exhibited psychotic symptoms after visits from David and Ashley. At the time of her testimony, Wallace had been appointed as the woman’s temporary guardian.

The court hearing concerned a request by David and Ashley that they resume regular contact with the woman and that David be appointed as her permanent guardian. The judge, however, ruled instead in favor of the appointment of Wallace, the candidate recommended by DDS, as the woman’s permanent guardian. David Barr had tried without success to gain guardianship of the woman after his divorce from Nancy Barr in 2003.

Despite the judge’s ruling in 2015, the court does not appear ever to have issued an order banning any members of the family from having contact with the woman.

Ashley acknowledged she and her father did become emotional during visits with her sister prior to the complete visitation ban in November 2015 because she appeared upset at being kept isolated from them and often appeared to be over-medicated.

“For several visits we did cry in front of (her sister), I mean how could we not?” Ashley said in an interview in 2016. “She was alone, scared, by herself, and just went through a horrific thing for about two years. So yes, my father and I did cry, and I was an emotional mess for a very long time.  Watching my sister all drugged up, she could barely talk, and given the state she was in, it was very hard to keep it in. I walked out of the room most of the time so my sister wouldn’t see me.”

In one of the last instances in which they were allowed to visit the woman, Ashley said it appeared she had not been bathed.  Ashley said she personally gave her a shower at the hospital. Her hair was so dirty and matted, Ashley said, that she had to use an entire bottle of shampoo and conditioner to untangle it.

Little information and little help from legislators

After the woman told a family friend about the alleged abuse in 2014, the friend reported the matter to police, and the woman was immediately removed from her mother’s care. She was apparently placed in a shared living arrangement, but that location was not disclosed at the time to any other members of the family.

In the months that followed, the family was only sporadically informed about their family member’s whereabouts.  Ashley and her father said that virtually no information was provided to them for the first month after her removal. They were then allowed to visit her only a handful of times, either at a DDS area office or in Massachusetts hospitals to which she was admitted, reportedly after psychotic episodes.

David and Ashley said they tried for months after the ban on further contact was imposed to get answers from DDS and from Wallace, and got little or no response from them. They also contacted their local legislators and got little help, and even went to the media, but were unable to get any news outlets to report their story.

Ashley said the ban on contact was so complete that when she found out in May 2016 that she was pregnant, Wallace denied her request that her sister be allowed to come to the baby shower. She said Wallace also told her that her sister would not be informed that she was pregnant.

One aunt allowed visits, another blocked

For unknown reasons, the only family member who has been allowed to visit the woman has been a maternal aunt who apparently agreed not to reveal the woman’s location to Ashley or David. The aunt told COFAR, however, that she thought David and Ashley should be allowed to visit the woman.

In the meantime, another aunt of the woman’s as well as a family friend were blocked from visiting her.

In an interview with COFAR in August of this year, Susan Zeytoonian, a paternal aunt of Ashley’s, said she had accompanied Ashley to visit the woman shortly before Wallace banned all family contact. Zeytoonian said that prior to the removal of the woman from her mother’s care, the woman had frequently spent time at her house.

According to Zeytoonian, the woman was happy to see them during their 2015 visit and “came runnng down the hall.” She said she had not seen her niece since that visit.

The family friend who initially reported the alleged sexual abuse of the woman to police had initially been allowed to visit her. However, the friend told COFAR that when she tried to visit the woman at Tewksbury State Hospital in April 2016 on her 28th birthday, she was told that she was no longer there.

The friend said she was also told by a staff member at the hospital that she too had been placed on a no-visitor list.  She said she was not given a reason for that prohibition.

Disability Law Center tried to find a solution in the case

In early 2017,the Boston-based Disability Law Center temporarily intervened in the case to ask a state-appointed attorney who is representing the woman, to support family visits if the woman wished that. However, that effort was not successful.

The attorney, Melissa Coury Cote, told COFAR in March 2017 that she would not support court permission for visits to the woman by David or Ashley Barr, despite the DLC’s request. Cote provided no reason for opposing family visits other than to say that the woman had not specifically asked her to allow visits from her father and sister.

However, Ashley Barr said at the time that her sister had recently called her father on two occasions and said she missed her family and wanted to see them. The calls were apparently unauthorized. Ashley said she and her father didn’t know whose phone the woman used to contact them.

While we are glad that a step toward reuniting the family has finally been taken by Wallace and DDS, we remained concerned that the Department and its professional guardians do not appear to operate in accordance with the Department’s own regulations on the rights of its clients and their families.

This case, moreover, illustrates the need to make reforms to the DDS-probate court system that ensure that clients and families are treated fairly and their rights and wishes are respected. Among the reforms we have proposed are the following:

  • Passage of legislation requiring probate court judges to presume that family members are suitable guardians of persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
  • The provision of free legal assistance to family members and guardians who been barred from contact with their loved ones in the DDS system or who have otherwise faced retaliation from the Department or from providers.
  • The provision of free legal assistance to family members whose guardianships are challenged by DDS.
  • A policy statement by DDS that the Department will make every effort to comply with the federal Developmental Disabilities Assistance and Bill of Rights Act, and, in particular, the statement in the law that individuals with developmental disabilities and their families are “the primary decision makers.”
  • Increased financial oversight of the corporate provider system and the DDS/probate guardianship system.

Without reforms such as these, we are afraid cases such as this one will happen again and again.

In accordance with his wish, Donald Vitkus is laid to rest in cemetery of the former Belchertown State School

June 24, 2018 2 comments

“We are powerless to consecrate this ground. The people laid to rest here have all consecrated it.”

Those were the words of Donald Vitkus’s grandson, William, as Donald’s ashes were interred Saturday following a memorial service at the Warner Pine Grove Memorial Cemetery for residents of the former Belchertown State School.

It was Donald’s wish that he be buried along with his “brothers and sisters” in the “Turkey Hill” cemetery.

Beneath the tall pines that protectively ring the small cemetery enclosure, some 70 people gathered for the memorial service in which family, friends, and fellow advocates for the developmentally disabled spoke with eloquence about the impact Vitkus had on their lives.

Vitkus ceremony1

Members of Donald Vitkus’s family at Saturday’s memorial service. His wife, Patricia, is in the center.

Vitkus, who died of a brain tumor in January at the age of 74, lived a life that took him from the notorious state school to a tour of duty in Vietnam, a first marriage that failed because he was unable to relate emotionally to his wife and children, and a later reconnection with his son, David, and other members of his family.

Vitkus was married in 1995 to his second wife, Patricia, who was in attendance at Saturday’s ceremony. In his later years, he became a passionate advocate for the developmentally disabled.

At the age of six, Vitkus was sent to Belchertown by foster parents, and remained there until he was “paroled” at the age of 17. The institution, which was closed in 1992, was one of many such facilities in Massachusetts that became the targets of a federal class-action lawsuit, Ricci v. Okin, which brought about significant upgrades in care and services in facilities throughout the state.

At Saturday’s memorial service, the speakers included Vitkus’s son, David, granddaughter, Helena, and grandson, William. Among the others who spoke were Department of Developmental Services Commissioner Jane Ryder, and Edward Orzechowski, who became a close friend of Vitkus’s while writing You’ll Like it Here, a book about Vitkus’s life at Belchertown and afterward, as Vitkus struggled to overcome the scars left from his experience at the institution.

In March of this year, Vitkus was posthumously given the Benjamin Ricci Commemorative Award at an annual Statehouse award ceremony, which recognizes the accomplishments of individuals served by DDS and the dedication of caregivers and advocates.

In 2005, Vitkus received an associate degree in human services from Holyoke Community College. It was there that he organized a speaking event that same year for Ben Ricci, the original plaintiff in Ricci v. Okin and the author of Crimes Against Humanity, a landmark book about Belchertown and the filing of the lawsuit.

Orzechowski, who attended the 2005 speaking event, said Vitkus approached him there, and asked him to write a book about his experience at Belchertown. At Saturday’s ceremony, Orzechowski said Vitkus had later quipped that he had organized the speaking event for Ben Ricci in order to score “brownie points”  to boost his G.P.A. at the community college.

Ryder said she has provided a copy of Orzechowski’s book to every member of the DDS senior management. “We need to always be vigilant about the services and staff and to question the experts,” Ryder said. “We need to listen to the individuals and their families.”

Vitkus ceremony2

Friends and family at Saturday’s memorial service for Donald Vitkus

Orzechowski stood silently before speaking and then recounted several anecdotes about Vitkus, some of which are in Orzechowski’s book, and others that occurred when Vitkus and Orzechowski went on speaking and book signing tours together after You’ll Like it Here was published in 2016.

Orzechowski recalled how Vitkus had always resisted authority, even biting off part of an attendant’s finger at Belchertown after the attendant had tried to stuff anti-psychotic medications down his throat. Vitkus spent 34 days in solitary confinement as a result.

Orzechowski also recounted how Vitkus had escaped twice from Belchertown, and was picked up each time by the same police officer, who took him for ice cream the second time before returning him to the facility.

William Vitkus, who, like Helena, recalled Donald as a loving grandfather, said the question had “gnawed” at him as to why he had asked to be buried in a cemetery for residents of an institution that was an “ugly place with bad memories.”

“He (Donald) had spent his whole life trying to prove he never belonged (at Belchertown),” William said.  “Why should the state school now get to keep him?”

William said that he finally came to realize that it wasn’t the institution, but the residents there with whom Donald felt a life-long kinship, and that he felt he was “no different than the people buried here. They were his family.

“We’re here,” William added, “to help him (Donald) fulfill his last act of advocacy — a last stick in the eye to all who told him and his brothers and sisters that they would amount to nothing.

“There is no more sacred spot for my grandfather to rest,” William continued. “We are powerless to consecrate this ground. The people laid to rest here have all consecrated it.”

Donald Vitkus’s son, David , a former Northampton police officer, talked about how Vitkus had initially been unable to relate to his family because of the emotional scars from his childhood. “He was lacking in the nurturing we all got,” David Vitkus said. “He was aloof and couldn’t express his feelings.”

But David noted that Vitkus later overcame that inability to relate, and reconnected with him. The father and son then embarked on a literal search for Donald’s past, which took them to the Belchertown institution, which was then in the final process in the early 1990s of closing.

David described his father as a humble man who “was always keenly aware of the opportunities he received that others simply didn’t….I think he would want me to say one last thank you for being there for him. So thank you very much.”

DDS appears to look the other way as provider illegally bans guardian from daughter’s group home

May 14, 2018 21 comments

Despite a broadly worded state regulation that gives residents of state-funded facilities the right to be visited, a human services provider agency is upholding a directive barring a guardian of a developmentally disabled woman from entering her group home.

Yet, the Department of Developmental Services does not appear to be pushing the provider to rescind its months-long ban.  Instead, the Department appears to have decided to ignore the fact that the ban exists.

The August directive from the provider, Toward Independent Living and Learning, Inc. (TILL), stated in writing that the guardian, Susan Fernstrom, “will not go into the residence” even to bring food or other items to her daughter, Holly. “Anything you need to deliver to the residence must be given to the staff or the manager and they will see that it is properly put away,” the directive stated.

In their most recent exchange about the situation, Susan emailed Jennifer Killeen, DDS area director, on May 4, stating that the ban was restricting her ability to serve as Holly’s guardian. In an email in response to Susan on May 8, however, Killeen did not address that concern or mention the ban.

Instead, Killeen’s email described the TILL directive as simply “calling for coordination and notice of any visits to the home…” As such, Killeen said, the directive was “reasonable and compliant with DDS regulations concerning visitation.” This was exactly the same language used by DDS Regional Director Kelly Lawless in an email to Susan in April regarding the TILL directive.

Killeen had also advised Susan in an email on May 2 to establish “regular discussions with TILL and the DDS Service Coordinator about your concerns.”  But when Susan raised the issue of the ban in a phone call with Dafna Krouk-Gordon, TILL’s president, two days later, she said Krouk-Gordon flatly refused to rescind the ban.

It is abundantly clear that the TILL directive goes further than calling for coordination and notice of visits. It bans Susan outright from entering the home.

We have previously noted that we have heard of no evidence that Susan ever acted in a disruptive way either inside the home or in any other location. It appears that the only reason for TILL’s prohibition against her from entering the home and for a subsequent notice of eviction of Holly is that Susan pointed out deficiencies in the staff’s compliance with Holly’s medically necessary dietary restrictions and with conditions in the residence on a number of occasions.

DDS regulations, which give DDS clients the right to receive visitors, specifically state that family members and guardians shall be permitted private visits “to the maximum extent possible.”

The regulations add that clients and their family members and guardians must be allowed to meet “under circumstances that are conducive to friendships and relationships,” and that the location must be suitable “to confer on a confidential basis.”

Enforcement of the ban raises further questions

Enforcement of the ban on entering the home appears to be up to the discretion of the staff and to Krouk-Gordon. Susan said she was allowed three visits in Holly’s room in April, two of which were used to help Holly pack for an upcoming trip and to try on clothes.

Susan noted that not only was she not allowed in the kitchen in the three instances in which she was admitted to the house since August, she wasn’t even allowed in the living room with Holly. Her visits were confined to Holly’s bedroom. She said she has not been allowed for nearly a year into the basement where Holly keeps seasonal clothes and personal items.

In most instances since last August, Susan has been made to wait outside the house for Holly, even in the dead of winter. She said she has even been made to stand outside the house while signing paperwork involving Holly’s care.

As we have reported, in addition to having an intellectual disability, Holly has a serious genetic metabolic condition called galactosemia, which requires a diet free of galactose, a form of sugar found in milk and cheese. That diet must be strictly adhered to in order to avoid complications including brain and kidney damage. Holly must also eat multiple servings of vegetables because she does not metabolize all the nutrients in her food.

Susan has in the past raised concerns that the group home staff was not following her instructions either in buying food for Holly or preparing and serving it to her. Her complaints appear to have led directly to the issuance of the directive banning her from the residence.

Susan said that in the phone call she had with Krouk-Gordon on May 4, Krouk-Gordon declined to discuss Susan’s concerns about Holly’s diet or other issues involving care and conditions in the group home.

Because Susan has only been provided sporadic access to the house since last August, she has been unable since then to determine what Holly is being fed. That has impeded her ability to function effectively as Holly’s guardian and to assure her health and wellbeing.

Krouk-Gordon has not returned phone calls or emails from COFAR for comment on the case.

Susan said said Holly’s dietician at Children’s Hospital had come to the house when Holly moved in, in June 2015, to help management and staff and to also explain why Holly’s diet was so important.

“During Fran’s (the dietician’s) presentation, she stressed to management and staff they should defer to me on Holly’s diet because I knew as much as she did about a galactose-free diet,” Susan wrote to us in an email. She added that she was involved in helping recruit subjects for a first-ever study on adults with galactosemia.

Susan said that to the extent the TILL directive has specified coordination of communication with TILL, the agency hasn’t followed the directive. For instance, Susan said she has not been able to get in contact with the group home’s current nutritionist.

“I’m very worried about what’s going in that house with her food,” Susan said. She said that while Holly is supposed to eat a lot of vegetables, she is concerned, based on Holly’s own reports to her, that she is not getting the food she needs.

During her May 4 phone call with Krouk-Gordon, Susan said Krouk-Gordon also wouldn’t say whether she would rescind the eviction notice for Holly, which she had also issued in apparent violation of DDS regulations. After only a short discussion, Susan said, Krouk-Gordon ended the phone conversation, saying, “‘Your time is up.'”

On April 24, DDS Commissioner Jane Ryder responded to an April 17 email I sent her regarding the TILL ban on entering the residence and a number of Susan’s other concerns. Ryder stated that DDS cannot comment on the specific matters I raised because that would violate client confidentiality. Ryder stated only that, “DDS has been working with the provider and families involved to address any issues and will continue to do so.”

On May 7, I emailed Ryder back, asking whether she could comment generally as to whether providers are permitted to ban guardians from access to residential facilities when there has been no demonstrated disruption of the facilities by those guardians. To date, Ryder has not responded to my query.

Tens of millions of dollars in government funding

As a recipient of state funding, TILL is obligated to comply with state law and DDS regulations.

TILL received $38.6 million in “government grants (contributions)” in Fiscal Year 2017, according to the organization’s IRS 990 form, although the form doesn’t specify which agency or agencies the funding came from. We are assuming the funding is primarily from DDS.

According to the IRS form, Krouk-Gordon received $321,772 in compensation as president of TILL in Fiscal 2017.  Kevin Stock, TILL vice president, received $229,988 in total compensation.

I’ve checked back to Fiscal 2015 so far, and TILL does not appear to have filed the standard online Uniform Financial Report with the state that contractors are supposed to file. That report is supposed to show how much the agencies get in state funding from identified agencies.

I called the state Operational Services Division earlier this month to ask why TILL’s UFR reports don’t appear to contain required information. I haven’t received a call back.

TILL’s financial and business practices have in the past been the subject of controversy.  A January 2002 report by the state auditor stated that TILL, under Krouk-Gordon’s management, had spent more than $4 million in state funds in “unallowable, undocumented, and questionable business activities.” We reported on this in The COFAR Voice in 2005.

In an email to Jennifer Killeen on May 9, which was copied to Commissioner Ryder, I urged DDS “to fully acknowledge the facts and the truth” about TILL’s treatment of Susan and Holly. In particular, I urged DDS to acknowledge the existence of the ban on Susan from entering the group home.

This is an important test for DDS, in our view. If the agency isn’t even willing to acknowledge the clear facts of the cases before it, it cannot effectively carry out its mission of supervising the care of the most vulnerable among us.

Donald Vitkus, inspirational survivor of the Belchertown State School, dies at 74

January 26, 2018 9 comments

Donald Vitkus, a survivor of the former Belchertown State School, whose life became an inspiration to many in the disabled community, died Wednesday of complications from a brain tumor.

Vitkus was the subject of a book published in 2016 by Ed Orzechowski, vice president of COFAR and a founding member of the Advocacy Network, an organization for families and persons with developmental disabilities in western Massachusetts.

Orzechowski’s book, “You’ll like it here,” chronicled Vitkus’s childhood at Belchertown in the 1950s, and his life afterwards in which he dealt with lasting emotional effects of his experiences in the institution. After an initial failed marriage and a literal search with his son for his past among Belchertown records, he found his calling in recent years as an advocate for persons with developmental disabilities.

Vitkus’s wife, Patricia, said there will be a memorial service in Massachusetts at a later date.

Vitkus was sent by a foster family to Belchertown in 1949, when he was six years old.  He had a tested IQ of 41 and was labeled “a moron” in the state school records, according to Orzechowski’s book.  In fact, that assessment of Vitkus cognitive ability and similar assessments of many of his peers at Belchertown proved to be wrong. He and many of his fellow “inmates” had to use their wits to survive there.

Donald Vitkus photo4

Donald Vitkus speaking at a recent event in his role as an advocate for people with developmental disabilities

In his book, Orzechowski described how Vitkus first approached him in 2005 following a book signing for “Crimes Against Humanity,” a detailed account by the late Benjamin Ricci of conditions at Belchertown and the other institutions prior to the 1970s. Ricci launched the class action lawsuit, Ricci v. Okin, in that decade that resulted in major improvements  in the care and conditions in the facilities.

In a post yesterday on Facebook, Orzechowski said that when he first met Vitkus at that book signing, Vitkus was then a 62-year-old student at Holyoke Community College, earning a degree in human services.

Vitkus told Orzechowski that he had grown up at Belchertown and was looking for someone to help him write his story. “I had no idea how important this man would become in my life,” Orzechowski wrote yesterday. 

“You’ll like it here” describes what were at the time horrifying conditions at Belchertown, and the treatment of the residents as prison inmates who could be abused with impunity.

When Vitkus refused at one point to take antipsychotic medication that was then routinely given to everyone, an attendant tried to jam the pills down his throat.  Vitkus bit off the attendant’s finger and was placed in solitary confinement for 34 days as punishment.  He noted to Orzechowski that the medication was used to keep the residents docile.

Orzechowski also described how the introduction of a television set, donated by a parents’ group,  opened Vitkus’s mind to the outside world, but also raised troubling questions for him, particularly about things such as the civil rights struggles of the late 1950s. From the book:

“Why were colored people treated like that?” he wondered.  “Why was anyone treated like that? Why did places like Little Rock, Montgomery, and Belchertown exist? Where was justice?”

In 1960, Vitkus was “paroled” from Belchertown at the age of 17, after graduating from the sixth grade at the school. He was sent to a program run by the Catholic Church called Brightside. Later, he enlisted in the Army and was sent to Vietnam where he lost a buddy who was killed in a firefight.

After his return from Vietnam, Vitkus got married to a young woman whom he’d met while he was a resident at Brightside. He also took night classes at a local high school and received a high school diploma.

But while Vitkus and his wife had two children, he found that he was incapable of expressing affection for her or for his children.  Eventually, his wife filed for divorce.

Vitkus  later reconnected with his son, Dave, who became a police officer in Northampton, and the two of them went on an exhaustive hunt together for information about Vitkus’s past.  That search took them to Belchertown, which was then in the final process in the early 1990s of closing.

At the age of 52, Vitkus remarried, earned an associate degree in human services at Holyoke Community College, and began a new career in caregiving to people with developmental disabilities.

Orzechowski offered some remembrances of his experiences with Vitkus in just the past year during a series of book signing events in western Massachusetts. One of those events was at Whole Children, an agency established in Hadley by mothers of developmentally disabled kids.

As Orzechowski described it:

It was a terrible stormy night last January—i thought it might be cancelled—but a sizeable crowd still showed. I saw one woman in the audience sitting with her son, probably middle school age. She later told me that her son is seldom communicative, but on the way home in the car he couldn’t stop talking about Donald and that he wanted to grow up to be like him, speaking out and advocating.

 At another event at a bookstore in Westfield, Orzechowski said:
I had watched a woman in the audience, clearly moved. When Donald called for questions following our presentation, he asked, “What brought you here, ma’am?” — a question he often asked. The woman was so emotional she couldn’t speak. There was a long silence, and Donald went to her and embraced her. This from a man who at one time couldn’t stand to be hugged because it reminded him of abuse and restraints.
At a coffee shop:
Donald and I had dropped off some books to be sold at Gail’s (my wife) hairdresser’s shop. Donald and I went next door for coffee, and were at a table talking. A woman (Darlene) who had been sitting near us (she was wearing an apron, on break) said she couldn’t help overhearing, and introduced herself. She had also been a patient at Belchertown as a child. She and Donald started reminiscing, and I went out to my car to get a book to give to her. We continued talking after I gave her the book, and before she left I told her that there were several pictures in the back of the book. She was still standing at our table, and when she opened to those pages, her hands started to tremble. It was extremely moving.

In his Facebook post yesterday, Orzechowski described Vitkus as “a man of courage, justice, integrity, resiliency, humor, and humility. He was a remarkable advocate for the rights and care of people with mental disabilities.”

Orzechowski added that, “I am both privileged an honored to have shared his life story, and to have become a very close friend. We had quite a journey together.”

New Yorker article on guardianship abuses has familiar ring

November 8, 2017 Leave a comment

An article last month in The New Yorker magazine on abuses in the guardianship system in Nevada is beyond disturbing, and its findings echo many of the concerns we have raised about the dysfunction of the Department of Developmental Services and probate court systems in Massachusetts.

The New Yorker article is primarily about abuses by guardians of the elderly, and it gets into an issue we haven’t fully explored, which is the financial exploitation of people who are represented by professional guardians. But we think many of the article’s points are relevant to the system involving DDS-paid guardians in Massachusetts.

As we have seen in several cases in Massachusetts, the DDS-probate guardianship system has trampled over the rights of family members of developmentally disabled persons, including sharply limiting or even eliminating their right in some cases to contact or visit their loved ones. That is also apparently a feature of the system described in the New Yorker piece.

As is the case in Massachusetts, the primary problems with the system exposed by the New Yorker article appear to lie with abuses by attorneys or other professionals who are appointed as guardians of incapacitated individuals. In many of these cases, family members, who would be better suited to be the guardians, are passed over by the courts and excluded from consideration for that role.

The article and previous reporting by The Las Vegas Review-Journal disclose how two professional guardians named April Parks and Jared Shafer used the probate system in Nevada to become court-appointed guardians of hundreds of people who were mostly elderly, and then took control of their bank accounts, estates,and property.

It isn’t clear whether that type of financial abuse has happened to developmentally disabled persons in Massachusetts, but there appears to be a potential for it. In 2008, an investigative article in The Boston Globe found that some 900 DDS clients in Massachusetts received little or no benefit from trust funds containing some $30 million.

Instead, the money was largely siphoned out of the accounts to pay bank management charges, legal bills, and fees charged by the Massachusetts Probate and Family Court system, “which has long neglected its obligation to ensure the funds are expended for the benefit of some of the state’s most helpless citizens.”

In July, COFAR reported that the state’s system of paying attorneys and corporate providers to serve as guardians of DDS clients is poorly overseen and that the system appears to give professional guardians an incentive to do little work representing individual clients while taking on as many clients as possible.

Families have also been victimized financially by the Massachusetts system. As one family member of a DDS client in Massachusetts described the attitude of the various guardians and clinical and court professionals that she dealt with in the DDS-probate system, “it was just a given that our checkbook was theirs.”

The New Yorker reported that without their families even knowing it, in many instances,  elderly people were removed from their homes by Parks and Shafer who then sold their property and pocketed the money. Parks was indicted last spring on theft and other charges after the local media finally ran stories on the issue.

The New Yorker article further stated that when family members tried to contest the guardianships or become guardians themselves, “they were dismissed as unsuitable, and disparaged in court records as being neglectful, or as drug addicts, gamblers, and exploiters.”  That sounds familiar to us because it is what we’ve seen in a number of cases in Massachusetts.

Another revelation in the article that sounded familiar to us was that the professional guardians often would not inform families about the care and conditions of their loved ones, and often prevented family members from being able to visit them. The director of an assisted-living facility into which many of the wards were placed, is quoted as saying that families were “devastated that they couldn’t know if the residents were in surgery or hear anything about their health. They didn’t understand why they’d been taken out of the picture. They’d ask, ‘Can you just tell me if she’s alive?’ ”

In one case, an elderly couple was moved with little notice by April Parks to a new assisted-living facility. When their daughter tried to visit them there, Parks refused to let her see her parents. According to the article, Parks later wrote that she had told the woman that “she was too distraught to see her parents, and that she needed to leave.” When the woman refused to leave the facility, Parks had the police called who then cited the woman for trespassing.

This sounds very similar to the reasoning given for keeping David and Ashley Barr from visiting David’s daughter, a developmentally disabled woman who has been ordered kept from their contact by a DDS-paid guardian since November 2015. The Barrs were supposedly too emotional when visiting her even though they said the reason they were emotional was because they often found her to be in a heavily drugged state during the visits.

Another family was prevented from talking to their daughter on the phone for a similar reason.

Another revelation in the New Yorker article that had a familiar ring was a description of the longstanding inaction of investigative authorities when presented with evidence of abuses in the guardianship system.

As we’ve said many times, a first step in reforming the DDS-probate system in Massachusetts would be for the Legislature to enact H.887,  a bill which would establish a presumption that parents of a developmentally disabled person are suitable guardians for that person.

The bill would thus make it harder for parents to be bypassed by probate judges who tend to side with DDS, which often favors the appointment of professional guardians in the place of families.

H.887, however, has been stuck in the Judiciary Committee since last January despite the fact that there appears to be no public opposition to the measure. It has been re-filed by Representative David Linsky in every Legislative session since 1999, but has never gotten out of the Judiciary Committee to our knowledge.

We’re hoping, as usual, that this year will be different. But despite a supportive statement last spring from Representative Claire Cronin, House chair of the Committee, that the bill was her “top priority,” the measure hasn’t moved forward in the current legislative session.

It’s time for the Judiciary Committee to finally act on H.887.  The numbers to call there are:

(617) 722-2396 for the office of Rep. Cronin, House chair; and/or

(617) 722-1280 for the office of Senator William Brownsberger, Senate chair.

As noted, this bill is only a first step. We are continuing to urge others in the Legislature as well to step forward to address the underlying systemic problems in the DDS and probate court systems.

Isolation of developmentally disabled woman continues after more than a year and a half

July 5, 2017 2 comments

It has been a year and seven months since David Barr and his daughter, Ashley, were last informed by the Department of Developmental Services of the whereabouts of David’s other daughter, a young woman with a developmental disability and mental illness.

The 29-year-old woman, whose name is being withheld for privacy reasons, is being kept in an undisclosed residence. All contact with her by her father and sister was cut off for unclear reasons by a DDS-paid guardian in November of 2015.

Although Dorothy Wallace, the DDS guardian, said in August 2015 that her goal was to allow the woman to have family contact, it still hasn’t happened for reasons that have never been revealed to David or Ashley. For unknown reasons, the only family member who has been allowed to visit the woman is an aunt who has apparently agreed not to reveal the woman’s location to the woman’s father or sister.

In an email last week, Ashley Barr told COFAR that her father has personally filed in the Essex County Probate and Family Court to intervene in the case and to seek permission to visit his daughter. But to date, he has not heard from the court.

The probate court has not issued any orders barring visitation with the woman. The denial of virtually all family contact appears to be a decision of the woman’s guardian and possibly DDS.

The Barrs have been unable to afford the cost of hiring a lawyer to pursue their case in probate court. As we have reported in another case, it is extremely difficult to prevail in any probate court proceeding in Massachusetts if you are not a legal guardian or appear without a lawyer.

David and Ashley have contacted their local state legislators, but have gotten little or no help from them. COFAR has attempted to intervene with mainstream media outlets and the legislators in support of visitation for David and Ashley, also to no avail.

Ashley and David Barr

David and Ashley Barr

As we reported in January,  the Boston-based Disability Law Center temporarily intervened in the case that month to ask a state-appointed attorney who is representing the woman to support family visits if the woman wished that. However, nothing apparently resulted from that effort.

The attorney, Melissa Coury Cote, told COFAR in March that she would not support court permission for visits to the woman by David or Ashley Barr, despite the DLC’s request.  She provided no reason to us for opposing family visits other than to say that the woman had not specifically asked her to allow visits from her father and sister.

However, Ashley Barr said that her sister recently called her father on two occasions and said she missed her family and wanted to see them. The calls were apparently unauthorized. Ashley and David don’t know whose phone the woman used to contact them. They are concerned the woman may have gotten in trouble for making the calls.

Coury Cote had previously been appointed by the state Committee for Public Counsel Services (CPCS) to represent the woman on guardianship matters.  Under state probate law, incapacitated adults are entitled to free legal representation although their family members are not entitled to that.

COFAR has reported on a number of cases in which DDS-paid guardians have imposed severe restrictions on family contact with persons in the DDS/probate court system; but the Barr case may be the most extreme of those cases in that in none of the other cases has a DDS client been kept in isolation for such a long period of time, and in no other case has their family not been informed of their whereabouts.

COFAR first appealed to DDS Commissioner Elin Howe last October to seek permission for the Barrs to visit their family member, but Howe declined to do so.  In early April, COFAR sent an email to Howe, asking whether a timetable existed for ever reuniting Ashley and David with the woman. Howe did not respond to the query.

According to a transcript of an August 2015 court hearing on the case, Wallace and other DDS officials complained that David Barr was excessively combative in dealing with them and that David and Ashley became overly emotional when they had been allowed to visit the woman prior to the cutoff of all contact with her.

While being combative with DDS over the care provided to a loved one can occasionally result in restrictions placed on family contact, we know of no other case in which all such contact was removed for this long a period of time.

CPCS attorney was reportedly told to keep the family informed

John Byron, a friend of David Barr’s, who attended a probate court hearing on the case with David in March, said the probate court judge seemed to be moved when David said he had been prevented from any contact with the young woman and that no one was providing him with any information about her. According to Byron, the judge then told Attorney Coury Cote that she should communicate with the family and that she (the judge) didn’t want the family “kept in the dark” about the case.

Coury Cote told COFAR the judge had asked her during the hearing only to “take a few minutes to speak with father.” She denied that the judge had ordered her to keep David Barr informed about the case.  At one point, Coury Cote also said that the Barrs were “not entitled to information” about their family member’s whereabouts.

We believe, however, that in light of a Supreme Judicial Court ruling last year involving the guardianship of a woman known as B.V.G. , David and Ashley Barr should be considered by the probate court to be “interested persons” in the welfare of their family member. As such, they are entitled to information about her whereabouts and to be afforded visitation and other rights.

CPCS declines to review the attorney’s conduct

In March, we appealed to Mark Larsen, director of mental health litigation with the CPCS, asking for an investigation of Coury Cote’s conduct in the case. Larsen responded within two days of our appeal to state that the attorney had no obligation “to follow your directions, those of your client (apparently Ashley and David Barr) or of the DLC. Her only obligation is to her client and her client’s wishes.” He stated that “if the family wants a change in visitation, they should consult counsel of their choosing.”

For the record, neither David nor Ashley Barr are clients of COFAR. COFAR is advocating on behalf of them, but our organization does not charge for such advocacy.  Our funding comes strictly from donations made by affiliated organizations and from families.

Larsen also stated that it “appears” that Coury Cote “consulted with her client” in the case.

I wrote back to Larsen to clarify that I had not suggested, or meant to suggest, that Coury Cote should follow our or the DLC’s directions, but that it appeared to us that she “may not have fully ascertained the wishes of her client.” I also stated that Larsen’s comments implied that he did not know for a fact that the Coury Cote had consulted with her client, and that he was only assuming that to be the case.

I noted further that while the CPCS’s Assigned Counsel Manual states that an attorney should “act as a zealous advocate for the client,” the manual also states the attorney should insure “that proper procedures are followed and that the client’s interests are well represented” (my emphasis).

Larsen emailed back a two-sentence reply, badly misspelling my name and saying he had nothing to add to his prior response.

It is frustrating to us, although perhaps not surprising, that the DDS/probate court system seems so often to function against the interests of individuals and families caught up in it. One key reason for this appears to be that there is little or no accountability when professionals in the system act contrary to the interests of people who are powerless and vulnerable.

We always thought the role of legislators and the press was to represent the powerless in society. I think we’re all learning that is no longer the case.

We can only hope that when the Barrs finally do get their day in court, the judge will acknowledge the rights they have been denied and will consider the apparent wish of the young woman involved to see her family again.

In the meantime, we would urge people to call either the governor’s office (617-725-4005) or the DDS commissioner’s office (617-727-5608), and ask them to re-establish family contact in this case. If you do so, please let us know about it.