Judge upholds ruling in abuse records case

February 03, 1993|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,Staff Writer

A federal judge is standing by his original decision that state social service workers violated the civil rights of David and Marsha Hodge of Taylorsville.

Senior Judge Herbert F. Murray denied a motion Jan. 22 by the Attorney General's Office to amend his September decision in U.S. District Court in Baltimore.

State lawyers have not decided whether to appeal the judge's decision to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., said Helen Szablya, a spokeswoman for the Department of Human Resources.

Judge Murray issued a summary judgment in September in favor of the Hodges. He said the couple's civil rights were violated when their names were kept on file connected to a child abuse case, even though abuse was ruled out in that case.

Their names also were mistakenly linked to child sexual abuse through a coding error, department officials said.

The state challenged Judge Murray's decision by filing a request for

him to amend the summary judgment. Now that he has refused, the state may appeal it to the next level.

If the state does not appeal, both sides will begin preparing for a jury trial on damages to be awarded the Hodges. They are seeking $1.5 million.

"It's costly to keep going," Ms. Szablya said. "It's also costly to have to go back and purge all those records. That's a lot of staff that would have to be pulled from existing cases to go do that."

Mr. Hodge said even though it may be expensive for the state to correct its mistake, that is no excuse for violating the Constitution and state law by maintaining files on people for no good reason.

"It's the argument of desperation," he said yesterday.

By asking the judge to amend his decision, he said, "They just bought themselves three months with that, trying to figure out what they're going to do."

The Hodge family was plunged into the social services arena after a misdiagnosis of their infant son's swollen arm led a pediatrician to report possible child abuse. The swelling was a bone infection later diagnosed and treated surgically at Union Memorial Hospital in Baltimore.

Even before the correct diagnosis, an investigator from the Carroll County Department of Social Services ruled out child abuse.

It had been the state's practice to keep any investigation files in the Department of Human Resources data base for five years.

In 1991, the General Assembly passed a law that requires the department to expunge files on cases in which officials rule out child abuse.

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