A federal civil rights lawsuit aimed at improving Clark County’s child welfare system for abused and neglected children has dragged on since 2010, but it could go to trial this year if a settlement isn’t reached.
The county has spent more than $700,000 defending the case as of last week, and the cost will continue to add up as litigation moves forward.
“I’m sure they would be happy to have the whole case go away, but that’s not what’s going to happen,” said Bill Grimm, the attorney representing children formerly under the care of the Clark County Department of Family Services.
Grimm is the senior attorney at the National Center for Youth Law, which filed the lawsuit.
The lawsuit alleges the county’s child welfare agency failed to provide adequate care and safety for its foster children.
A federal judge threw out the case a few months after it was filed by the Oakland, Calif.-based center, saying it failed to show why county and state officials should be held liable for problems in Southern Nevada’s child welfare system.
In 2012, a federal appeals court reinstated the suit.
Kristi Jourdan, a Family Services spokeswoman, said agency officials don’t comment on pending litigation.
The 13 children named as plaintiffs in the lawsuit are no longer with the child welfare agency. They were adopted, returned to their biological parents or aged out of the system. It had been a class action suit but now seeks monetary damages for eight plaintiffs.
“The damages will be substantial because the damages were serious and long-lasting,” Grimm said.
The case is in the discovery process, meaning both parties are gathering information before going to trial.
While no date has been set, the case could go to trial in the fall or later, Grimm said.
The county, using outside counsel, has spent $732,203 on the case, according to a public records request.
Las Vegas law firms Kolesar &Leatham and Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard &Smith LLP have represented the county.
The contract rate for the law firms is $160 per hour for partners, $130 per hour for associate attorneys and $75 per hour for paralegal time, according to the request.
Margaret Foley of Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard &Smith LLP is representing the county, all of the named county management employees and all of the named Family Services employees who were employed by the county at the time of the complaint. Foley could not be reached for comment.
Alan Lefebvre of Kolesar &Leatham is representing two former county employees who were no longer employed by the county at the time they were named in the complaint.
Lefebvre said he’s not allowed to speak to the press on behalf of his clients.
Counsel for the children formerly in county care will respond to the county’s request for a settlement demand as soon as authorized to do so, according to a joint status report filed Friday.
“We are always hopeful that we might discuss a settlement that might be appropriate in this case,” Grimm said.
There’s no dollar figure on the individual damages at this point.
On Jan. 17, the county filed a motion on behalf of two former Family Services’ employees, Yvette Chevalier and Debbie Mallwitz to dismiss evidence that will be presented later this year because the lawyers representing the plaintiffs failed to obey civil procedure. On Jan. 21, the county added all defendants to the motion.
A response from Grimm is due today. No evidence of damages has been provided to the county, according to the joint status report.
When the lawsuit started, it sought injunctive relief that would make system changes to benefit all foster children, Grimm said.
“We are still hoping that the county will make those changes that are necessary and that will prevent other children from being harmed,” Grimm said.
There are still problems that endanger local children in foster care, he said.
“We continue to believe that screening and licensing and support and training of foster parents is inadequate and that leads to children being injured in the system,” he said. “We don’t believe workers are sufficiently trained and supervised as they should.”
Reporter Yesenia Amaro can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0440.