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Showing posts with label WASHINGTON D.C. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE. Show all posts
Showing posts with label WASHINGTON D.C. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE. Show all posts

Monday, August 31, 2015


By Elizabeth A. Richter

Buzzzz!  Times up!  Today is the last day that the Connecticut Department of Justice had to submit on time the report it has been promising regarding the compliance of the CT Judicial Branch with Federal ADA mandates.  They said they'd have the report out to us at the end of August 2015; tomorrow is September 1, 2015, and it looks like they will have missed the deadline!  How did that happen?  It happened because the Washington DOJ and the Connecticut DOJ have one thing in common: a profound unwillingness to enforce the ADA at the Connecticut Judicial Branch despite the fact that so many CT citizens have contacted them to report repeatedly violations of their Federal ADA rights during family court and DCF legal proceedings.  

Now, I can't speak for what everyone else has gone through, but I can share what went into my ADA complaints which have been so colossally ignored by those whose job it is to respond to them.  My journey began way back in April 2012 when I contacted Equal Access Associates headed by Dr. Karin Huffer and had them draft a Federal ADA complaint on my behalf and that of my two children, both of whom have ocularcutaneous albinism and are visually impaired.  This was then sent out to the Washington, D.C. Department of Justice offices.  I didn't hear anything in the months afterward, so in the Fall 2012 I again sent a copy of this complaint to the Washington Department of Justice by Fax.  Again, I didn't hear anything in the months afterward.  Then, in March 2013, I again sent a copy of my complaint by certified mail, return receipt requested since I had not received a response.  Still, I did not get an answer from the Washington, D.C. Department of Justice, no information regarding whether they had received the complaint or anything about what they intended to do about it.  

Finally, I heard about the fact that there was an option to send my complaint to the Washington, D.C. DOJ offices online by email (I understand this option has since been suspended!).  Thus, on December 18, 2014, I again sent my Complaint to the Washington DOJ, the Disability Rights Section.  This time I was lucky enough to get an automatic response indicating they had finally received my complaint, "The Disability Rights Section has received your email."  it said.  Further, the automatic response continued on as follows:

"We will review the information you have submitted and will notify you of any action this office will take with respect to the issues you have raised.  Please be advised that this office receives a large volume of correspondence from the public.  If you do not hear from us within 3 months, you may contact us to determine the status of our review."  

Ok, so it took four tries to get an answer.  What about folks that are far more fragile?  How do they ever begin with a system like this?

January, February, and March 2015 went by, and still I had no response.  Finally, in June 2015 I contacted the DOJ directly and asked them what the Washington, DOJ intended to do with my complaint.  The people there referred me to a very nice lady named Carmen Romero who said that she would forward my question on to decision makers via email.  Looking for an answer to that email, I followed up with phone calls to Carmen on June 23, 2015, June 29, 2015, July 9, 2015, July 21, 2015, July 22, 2015, and August 3, 2015.  In the end, I never received a response to my inquiry.  

Now I am not asking for anything extraordinary.  Yes, I would like the Washington DOJ to pursue my case seriously and demand a correction of CT Judicial Branch's outrageous behavior.  But at the very least, it would be nice to receive a timely acknowledgment [i.e. not over two years!] that I have sent a complaint, as well as a statement regarding what they are going to do about it, or if nothing is to be done, why not.  In fact, my understanding is that the latter response is mandatory.  Specifically, under Item #6 of the "Information and Technical Assistance on the Americans with Disabilities Act" published by the United States Department of Justice Civil Rights Division it states as follows:  Since we receive a high volume of ADA complaints and have limited resources, we cannot investigate or litigate every complaint.  If we cannot investigate your complaint due to lack of resources or for some other reason, we will send you a letter explaining why your complaint will not be investigated."  I am still waiting for the letter, as I am sure many thousands of others are as well.  Keep in mind that Item #7 of this Information Sheet delineates the period of three months as their optimal time frame, not all of eternity.

Here is a department that is especially set up to deal with the needs of persons with disabilities, yet it has the nerve to ignore and play games with the needs of people with disabilities who send them legitimate complaints.  I find that an incredibly traumatizing way to deal with people who deserve so much better because they have already been traumatized enough.  As ADA documents have said, persons with disabilities have historically been disenfranchised and excluded from access to the services, programs, and activities of government.  There is no better example of disenfranchisement and exclusion than the silent treatment, which is what the Washington DOJ greeted me with, as well as all of my fellow advocates who also sent in complaints which were also ignored.

Given that I wasn't receiving any satisfaction from the Washington DOJ, several friends advised me to approach the Connecticut DOJ.  Thus, On December 24, 2012, I sent a letter to Attorney John B. Hughes certified mail, return receipt requested.  In that letter I stated that the "CT Judicial Branch is not complying with the ADA and ADAAA" and I asked him to intervene.  

I also noted that the CT Judicial Branch is acting only according to employment law, Title I, and not according to that of a public agency under Title II as it should.  I mentioned that the CT Judicial Branch has no Designated Responsible Employee under Title II of the ADA, 28 C.R.F. Sec. 35.107(a).  I pointed out that the CT Judicial Branch doesn't have a meaningful grievance procedure as required under Title II of the ADA, 28 C.R.F. Sec. 35.107(b).  I further stated that the CT Judicial Branch has not conducted a self-evaluation as required under Title II of the ADA 28 C.F.R. Part 35 Sec 35.105.  And I also pointed out that while the CT Judicial Branch was accommodating those with visible disabilities it was limiting the access of those with invisible disabilities.  Finally, I documented in detail how I was denied access to my ADA reasonable modifications from March 2009 until December 2012 in violation of Federal ADA law.  I received no response to this letter.  

Then, On June 10, 2013, I hand delivered an additional letter addressed to Attorney Deidre [sic] M. Daly, acting United States Attorney at the Connecticut DOJ.  In that letter, I mentioned that I had filed a federal complaint on November 16, 2012 against the CT Judicial Branch, et. al. based upon the fact that it discriminated against me and failed to provide me with reasonable accommodations.  I included a copy of the earlier December 24, 2012 letter to Attorney John Hughes so that she could become oriented to my complaint.  I asked Attorney Daly to authorize the Connecticut DOJ to file an Amicus Brief on my behalf.  

In response, on July 9, 2013, Attorney Deirdre M. Daly and her assistant Ndidi N. Moses send me a letter which stated, "I have reviewed your complaint dated June 24, 2013 [incorrect date!  I had sent in two letters--one dated December 24, 2012 and the other dated June 10, 2013] alleging that the state of Connecticut Judicial Branch has violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.  You complaint is under review by this office, and we will contact you if we have any questions."

Months went by and she never responded to my complaint  indicating whether she thought it was legitimate or not, and she never responded to my request for an Amicus Brief either with a yes or no.  I still have not heard what the outcome of the so-called "review" of my case was.

Meanwhile, during the same time period that I was complaining to the Connecticut DOJ about the CT Judicial Branch's refusal to comply with Federal ADA and ADAAA law, so was Ms. Susan Skipp of Litchfield and potentially others.  Thus, on January 8, 2014, I received a letter signed by both Attorney Deirdre M. Daly and Attorney John B. Hughes stating as follows:

"...the U.S. Attorney's Office and the Department of Justice - Civil Rights Division have elected to conduct ADA compliance review of the State of Connecticut Judicial Branch.  This review will examine ADA complaints that the Judicial Branch has received, the responses, and the accommodation process.  It will also examine the training that the judges and support staff receive regarding the ADA.  Included in the review will be inquiries into the family court and divorce court processes.  I must inform you, however, that, consistent with our jurisdiction, the review will focus on the ADA, and not other matters.  This review, which is already underway, is expected to take some time."

In the weeks that followed this January 8, 2014 letter I dropped off documents in relation to my ADA complaint and that of my daughters.  I also hand delivered a copy of the ADA complaint from the Joseph Watley and Karin Haseman case.  I am also aware that many other people dropped off or sent emailed information to Attorney Deirdre Daly and Attorney John Hughes regarding the ADA violations in their cases.  The response?  Silence, silence, and more silence.  During the remainder of the year in 2014, I occasionally sent out an email with additional information in regard to further violations by the Connecticut Judicial Branch.  In addition, I made further inquiries regarding when this investigation would be completed.  Again, I received no answer.  Finally, in November 2014, I hired an attorney so that I could get an answer: Attorney Donna Drumm.

On February 25, 2015, Attorney Drumm sent an email inquiry to Attorney Hughes just reviewing the history and asking for a copy of the report that the Connecticut DOJ had promised in its letter of January 8, 2014.  Now, this is a full year later that Attorney Drumm asked this question.  On March 18, 2015, Attorney John Hughes responded by stating, "The report is still in a draft form and it is not expected to  be finalized for several more months.  When it is competed, you and Ms. Richter will receive a copy."  This is what is outrageous--that for over a year Attorney Hughes refused to respond to my emails asking the very same question, but after I hired an attorney at considerable expense, then he was willing to respond to the attorney.  It is as if, as far as Attorney John Hughes is concerned, I am not even a human being entitled to reasonable courtesy!  This is the person that the government chooses to put in charge of Civil Rights investigations!

In regard to my complaint, and the complaints of so many others, Attorney John Hughes went a step further and said that the Connecticut DOJ did not intend to take any action on them stating, "We are not investigating individual claims of ADA violations or attempting to set aside court orders relating to divorce, alimony, custody, appointment of guardians ad litem and related financial orders."  For those who had been waiting now for over a year for the Connecticut DOJ's investigation to be completed, this was devastating news.  You would have thought that if the DOJ did not intend to address peoples' complaints that the issue was of such significance, they would have clarified that from the beginning.  Instead, the Connecticut DOJ kept everyone dangling for months on end, and then said we don't intend to help you.  

Again, on June 12, 2015, Attorney Donna Drumm wrote to Attorney Hughes and asked, "Can you please give us a projected date of completion?" [for the report on the ADA compliance of the CT Judicial Branch].  She also asked again in regard to what would be done about my specific complaint.

A month later, on July 13, 2015, Attorney John Hughes responded with the following: 

"In response to your email from June 12 in which you enclosed a letter from yourself about previous correspondence related to ADA complaints made by your client, Elizabeth Richter, I wanted to let you know that the current projected completion of a Report is the end of August [emphasis added]. While I understand that Ms. Richter and several others have made individual ADA complaints about the State Judicial Branch, the focus of our review is the overall compliance process by the State and not those individual claims. This office and the Civil Rights Division, Disability Rights Section of the Department of Justice are empowered to investigate a pattern or practice of ADA violations. That is what the subject of the Report will be."

That is why I started this blog with a buzz, because clearly, the end of August has now passed and we still do not have a finalized report.  Do you think the Connecticut DOJ has ever heard of the Langston Hughes quotation, "Justice delayed is justice denied!"  I do also want to note that Attorney John Hughes states that they are "empowered to investigate a pattern or practice of ADA violations."  Well, yes, an upper level government official may have limited the investigation, however, the mandate of both the Washington DOJ and the Connecticut DOJ is to investigate specific complaints and a look at the case law in the State of Connecticut indicates that is exactly what they have done.  Why these departments chose to deviate from what they do normally in the face of litigants' complaints regarding the CT Judicial Branch is a very good question we should all ask.  It seems as though the DOJ is good at telling everyone else to obey federal ADA law, but when it comes to demanding that their own fellow attorneys and institutions obey the law, it seems they don't want to.  How hypocritical is that?

I will say that on August 15, 2015 the Washington DOJ and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued a joint statement entitled "Protecting the Rights of Parents and Prospective Parents with Disabilities" which resoundingly supports the rights of parents with disabilities in accordance with Title II of the ADA and the ADAAA in legal proceedings related to child welfare cases and the court system.  Of course, if this is a statement without any teeth because of the DOJ's refusal to enforce the expressed policies, it is a piece of nonsense.  Still, it is admirable that these policies have been articulated.  The link to this statement is below:

It could be that this statement is the result of the work of activists throughout Connecticut who have been fighting for the rights of parents with disabilities in family court and in regard to DCF.  I certainly know that this issue has concerned people here in Connecticut as well as activists all over the country.  We may never know.  One thing I do know is that we were promised a report from the Connecticut DOJ in regard to the compliance of the CT Judicial Branch with the ADA and we still haven't gotten it.  

We are waiting.


As a followup, on September 1, 2015, the CT Law Tribune reported that the CT DOJ is planning on investigating CT hotels for non-compliance with the ADA.  See the link below:

In the last decade, several Connecticut residents, many representing their children's interests as well, have contacted the CT Department of Justice and requested assistance in obtaining their federal ADA rights.  Well over a year and a half ago, the CT DOJ stated it would proceed with a compliance review of the CT Judicial Branch.  When I made an inquiry about when that review would be completed, as I stated, I was reprimanded because Attorney John Hughes stated that his offices were overwhelmed with work and could we possibly ask them to do more.  Yet now we get a news report indicating that after delaying any kind of response to the complaints of family court victims and refusing to address their individual concerns the CT DOJ is now volunteering to take on a new area of concern, i.e. hotels.  This is a slap in the face of all family court victims with disabilities who have been waiting for years for redress.