Judge To Rule On Destroying File On Unfounded Abuse Allegation

December 18, 1991|By Darren M. Allen | Darren M. Allen,Staff writer

Elliott Burgher knows that obtaining a copy of a Carroll County Department of Social Services abuse allegation against him is, at best, adifficult undertaking.

He knows that the November 1989 file -- inwhich the department ruled out any possibility of his abusing his mother -- is confidential and virtually impossible to find among the millions of files in a state record storage facility in Jessup.

And he knows that, even though his mother, Elizabeth Burgher, hasbeen dead since July 1990, the state will keep the eight-page file -- mistakes and all -- until at least 1994.

That is, unless CircuitCourt Judge Raymond E. Beck rules this month in favor of the 57-year-old Western Chapel Road resident.

"All I want is the allegation that I beat and abused my mother destroyed," Burgher said Monday afteran hour-long hearing in Beck's courtroom. "I'm not doing this only for myself. This kind of thing should happen to nobody."

But this kind of thing -- being suspected by state authorities of elderly abuse, cleared of that abuse and ultimately having a file of the transaction maintained for five years -- happens at least 150 times a month, state officials said.

Should Beck order the Carroll County Department of Social Services and the Maryland Department of Human Resources to locate and destroy Burgher's file, it may have to do so for the thousands of other people whose files have been maintained, attorneys for the two agencies argued in the hearing.

"These records go nowhere, and they harm no one," said Shelly E. Mintz, an assistant attorney general representing the Department of Human Resources. "I don't want to open Pandora's box. Anyone who has ever had a protective services person knock at their door would probably like to see their files destroyed."

Burgher, however, sees the issue as one of fairness.

"This matter is very important to Mr. Burgher," John J. Joyce, Burgher's Baltimore attorney, said during the hearing. "Even if it is notimportant to everybody else. There is no purpose for the state to keep the file. Everyone knows Mr. Burgher didn't abuse his mother."

Burgher has been trying to have copies of his file destroyed for about two years. "This is totally outrageous," he said. "All I wanted to do is get rid of this record. I didn't do anything, and they say I didn't do anything."

He expects to testify before the General Assembly in the upcoming session to get it to pass a law similar to one passed last session that prevents the state from maintaining records of unfounded child abuse cases for more than 120 days.

The two agencies don't necessarily disagree with Burgher, except that they insist that they have the right to decide when and if to destroy their records.

"The legislature gave the department (of Human Resources) the power to determine what was going to be the appropriate time to keep records," said Brian Bowersox, a county attorney representing Carroll's DSS in the case. "The legislature doesn't just do things to do them. They are saying that the departments of this state know best how long they need to keep their records."

A spokeswoman for the Department of Human Resources in Baltimore said the records could be useful should a person be accused of elderly abuse several times. "It's helpful to spot patterns," said Helen Szablya. She said about 300 reportsof elderly abuse are filed in Maryland every month; about half of those reports are found to be without merit.

Beck said Monday that he will render a written decision in "several days." He can decide to grant Burgher's motion, grant the state's motion -- to keep the records policy intact -- or deny either or both motions.

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