Back in October, we reported on a case before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in which appellants tried to argue that, strictly speaking, there was nothing in the U.S. Constitution that prohibits a child welfare worker from lying to achieve a removal to foster care.
Click here to read our account of that appeal, heard by a three-judge panel. It is a fool’s errand to predict court outcomes based on oral arguments but, in this case, it really did not look good for the appellants.
“How in the world could a person in the shoes of your clients possibly believe that it was appropriate to use perjury and false evidence” to remove a child from a parent, asked Judge Stephen Trott, a longtime member of the court appointed by Ronald Reagan in 1987. “How could they possibly not be in notice that you can’t do that?”
The panel did in fact reject the argument, and Trott wrote the opinion, which was released this week. Buried on page 13 is a line that artfully relays his incredulity at the argument:
No official with an IQ greater than room temperature in Alaska could claim that he or she did not know that the conduct at the center of this case violated both state and federal law.
BAM! Trott also provided a more precise dismissal of the constitutional appeal:
… Government perjury and the knowing use of false evidence are absolutely and obviously irreconcilable with the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of Due Process in our courts. Furthermore, the social workers’ alleged transgressions were not made under pressing circumstances requiring prompt action, or those providing ambiguous or conflicting guidance. There are no circumstances in a dependency proceeding that would permit government officials to bear false witness against a parent.
It is now on the appellants – Orange County and three of the workers involved in the case – to let the decision stand or appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.