CASA dropped from DCYF lawsuit

Judge rules organization immune in sex assault case

MANCHESTER – CASA of New Hampshire has immunity in the sexual assault lawsuit filed against the state Division of Children, Youth and Families, according to a new ruling in the case.

Hillsborough County Superior Court Judge Gillian Abramson ruled both the organization, and the individual guardian ad litems trained and supervised by CASA, are immune to the caims in the lawsuit given the quasi judicial nature of their work.

CASA was added to the lawsuit this year as the adoptive family of two young girls claim the CASA guardian ad litem and the DCYF social worker assigned to the family were both aware of the abuse of the girls by their biological parents. Despite their knowledge of the abuse, according to the lawsuit, the girls were allowed unsupervised visits with the biological parents where they were sometimes violently sexualy assaulted.

“The Court recognized that individual court-appointed guardians ad litem are immune from liability arising from the performance of their official duties, because they are serving as an arm of the court,” said Carolyn Cote, a CASA spokeswoman. “The court further stated that this immunity applies not only to individual CASA guardians ad litem, but also extends to the organization, because the organization too is serving a judicial function.

“The issue was thoroughly briefed by the parties and CASA of New Hampshire respects the court’s decision.”

Rus Rilee, the attorney representing the adoptive parents and the two girls, plans to appeal this decision to the New Hampshire Supreme Court.

“We believe that when CASA, a private organization with liability insurance that raises money to employ people to train and supervise its volunteer GALs, fails to do its job, and children are injured as a result, it should not be entitled to immunity,” Rilee said. “So, we obviously respectfully disagree with the judge’s decision on this issue, which we intend to appeal to the New Hampshire Supreme Court.”

The biological parents are serving life prison after they were convicted of assaulting the girls during unsupervised visits arranged by DCYF and CASA, the lawsuit states. Part of the criminal case uncovered video recordings the parents took of the sexual assault of the girls, ages 4 and 18 months at the time. The videos depict violent sexual assaults on the children by their biological parents.

According to the lawsuit, DCYF staffer Jennifer Damien and CASA guardian ad litem Lynn Liptay were told numerous times by the adoptive parents, then the foster family, that the children were being abused by the biological parents. The children had been removed from their parents’ care in 2012 and

sent to live with a foster family.

Throughout 2012 and 2013, Damien, Lipay and an Easter Seals volunteer, known as “Missy” in the lawsuit, supervised visits between the children and the biological parents. During some of the supervised visits, the children were assaulted during “bath time,” when the Easter Seals volunteer allowed the parents time alone with the children, according to the lawsuit. Easter Seals of New Hampshire also is a defendant in this case.

In September 2013, Claremont Police Detective Emily Cobb sent Damien a copy of an investigative report in which the biological father is accused of sexually assaulting another child.

Damien continued to allow unsupervised visits with the parents even after being sent the police report. This was finally stopped in November 2013 when the oldest child started telling the foster parents about being sexually assaulted, resulting in the biological parents’ arrest.

When confronted by the adoptive parents and Cobb, Damien reported she wanted to give the biological parents “the opportunity to fail,” according to the lawsuit.

In the same ruling that granted CASA immunity, Abramson also ruled partially in favor of the adoptive parents. Abrahamson ruled the family can waive confidentiality when it comes to their own DCYF files. This allows the case files to become part of the evidence in the case. Rilee said this decision will benefit all families dealing with DCYF.

“Confidentiality was once used as a shield by DCYF – as a result of this decision, it can now be waived and used as a sword by those children who are harmed by DCYF’s failures,” Rilee said.

The case is scheduled for trial next year.

Damien Fisher can be reached at 594-1245, or @Telegraph_DF.