DENVER — A critic of Oklahoma’s foster child care system contends its reform will not be possible if an appeals court grants the state’s request to decertify a class-action lawsuit against top child welfare officials. "You can’t get system-wide relief (unless a pending lawsuit applies to all 10,000 foster care children),” children’s advocate Marcia Lowry said Thursday after arguing the case at the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Lowry is an attorney for the national organization Children’s Rights, based in New York City, which is leading the lawsuit against officials of the Oklahoma Commission for Human Services. The officials want the Denver-based court to remove class-action status for the lawsuit, which seeks an overhaul of the system, including increased staff.
Risk allegedThe lawsuit alleges the system operated by the Department of Human Services is so deficient it puts thousands of children at risk, including risk of death and injury. State officials argue the lawsuit should be limited to the six children who are named as plaintiffs. At issue is whether U. S. District Judge Gregory Frizzell in Tulsa erred in certifying the lawsuit as a class action on behalf of all the children in the system. The officials claim Frizzell erred in concluding the case meets strict legal standards required for judges to grant class-action status to lawsuits. The officials have contended in court filings the strategy of the plaintiffs’ attorneys is to force the state into a settlement at a staggering cost to taxpayers. "Clearly, the litigation strategy of Children’s Rights is to prosecute a class action whose defense becomes financially and logistically burdensome (that it) inevitably leads to the entry of a consent decree,” the officials said. A three-judge panel of the appeals court, as typical, did not indicate when it will decide the state’s challenge, nor indicate how the judges would rule.