For more than three years, David and Marsha Hodge have been fighting the Carroll County Department of Social Services for access to all information the agency has on an unfounded child abuse allegation against them.
Now that they've seen the complete file -- as part of their $1.5 million suit against the department in U.S. District Court in Baltimore -- they're outraged.
"We have seen our file," Mr. Hodge said last week. "We're in a state of shock regarding the misinformation it contains."
But the Hodges are barred from disclosing what is in the file by a gag order issued by Senior Judge Herbert F. Murray. Even though the Hodges initially sought to have the files entered into the court record under seal, they are now fighting that order and seeking the right to decide whether to make public what they've obtained from Social Services. The agency's position is that all such files are confidential.
Mr. and Mrs. Hodge were given a copy of what the agency says is its complete file on the abuse case, in which the Taylorsville couple were suspected of abusing their infant son in 1989. A social worker found the abuse allegations to be without merit.
The agency has maintained in this suit, and in another one that involves a Carroll man who was wrongly suspected of abusing his elderly mother, that state law shields all of its files from disclosure -- even to those people who are subjects of Social Services investigations.
A hearing on that and other matters in the complicated case is scheduled for 10 a.m. tomorrow in Judge Murray's court.
The suit was filed in January. It names, in addition to Social Services, Director M. Alexander Jones, Assistant Director Alan L. Katz and Carolyn W. Colvin, secretary of the state Department of Human Resources, as co-defendants. Ms. Colvin's department oversees the Social Services department.
Helen Szablya, a Human Resources spokeswoman, declined to comment on the suit.
In addition to ruling on the confidentiality issue -- or allowing the Maryland Court of Appeals to decide the issue -- Judge Murray is to consider a dismissal motion filed by Social Services, and summary judgment motions filed by the agency and the Hodges.
The Hodges say that for years they had been unable to see all the information in their Social Services file and to get the state to correct inaccuracies.
Their suit says a misdiagnosis of Mr. Hodge's son's swollen arm led pediatrician Michael Rosner and Carroll County General Hospital to report possible abuse. The swelling was a bone infection later corrected by surgery at Union Memorial Hospital.
Even before the correct diagnosis, the social worker ruled out the alleged abuse. But the file has remained in Human Resources archives.
The Hodges also filed a $2 million medical malpractice suit in Carroll County Circuit Court last March against the hospital and four of its pediatricians. The suit claims suffering from the misdiagnosis and the wrong information on file at Social Services.