Tulsa federal judge rules against Oklahoma Department of Human Services

Judge rules lawsuit against the Oklahoma Department of Human Services can go forward as class-action case.
BY NOLAN CLAY nclay@opubco.com Modified: November 15, 2011 at 9:03 pm •  Published: November 15, 2011
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The judge refused to decertify the class. The judge found Children's Rights “presented ‘significant proof' that DHS has a policy or practice of failing to adequately monitor the safety of plaintiff children causing significant harm and risk of harm to their safety.”

The judge stressed in his 22-page order that he was not finding DHS in fact has such a policy or practice. “A determination on the merits of the claim still lies ahead,” the judge wrote.

Widespread criticism

DHS is governed by a nine-member commission of volunteers appointed by the governor. Commissioners have faced widespread public criticism this year for not taking more active roles in their oversight roles particularly after children deaths.

Gov. Mary Fallin in September named two new commissioners to help fix problems at DHS. She said then she was extremely disturbed by “the appearance of lax oversight on the part of DHS commissioners.”

During a hearing this week in the case, the judge said of the commissioners, “I understand they serve as volunteers, yet they have a duty.”

The judge said, “They can make inquiries. I find it astounding that in three years, no commissioners can recollect at a meeting an inquiry of caseworker caseloads.”

In his order, the judge noted DHS Director Howard Hendrick testified in June that “in recent history, no commissioners have asked him for a report on anything relating to child welfare, and no one has come in and talked about any of the department's data that was troubling to them.”

Contributing:

Ginnie Graham,

Tulsa World staff writer