CA Social Workers Seek Immunity From Perjury, 9th Cir. Says No
January 5, 2017 (Fault Lines) — Had the recent case of Harwick v. County of Orange from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals gone the other way, the precedent would’ve made social workers and their employers immune from liability should they maliciously commit perjury and fabricate evidence while “securing” a child’s removal from her parent. Considering that circuit’s jurisdictional reach, that’s a lot of social workers who would be given free rein to lie and cheat while they went about their duties.
Preslie Hardwick sued Orange County and social workers Marcia Vreeken, Helen Dwojak and Elaine Wilkins in federal court,* and after the defendants appealed the federal judge’s decision to let the suit go forward, the panel ruled that Hardwick had produced “more than sufficient” admissible evidence to create a genuine dispute as to whether her removal from her mother’s custody violated her constitutional rights under the 4th and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. Harwick produced evidence of the following events involving the social workers/(civil) defendants:
1) The allegedly false statements and omissions made in defendants’ court reports continuously submitted by them from February 17, 2000, through the termination of the dependency proceedings;
2) The statements made by the defendant social workers during an “off the record” discussion on February 17, 2000, and during an “on the record” discussion that same day where the social workers allegedly lied (but not while under oath) to the commissioner overseeing the dependency proceeding, triggering Preslie’s seizure;
3) The alleged fabrication of evidence throughout the dependency proceedings and repeated suppression of exculpatory evidence in defendants’ written court reports; and
4) Defendants’ corrupt recommendations that Preslie continue to be detained even though defendants allegedly knew they were lying to the court about the basis for the initial seizure and subsequent detention.
Talk about soiling the Social Worker Code of Ethics, to say the very least. Perhaps they had the best of intentions, considered their perjury as means to an end, or didn’t mind breaking a few eggs. Whatever caused these bozos to go on a perjurious rampage while taking Preslie and her sister from their mother is no longer relevant, as considerable damage was done to the girls and their mother. Based on their testimony and obfuscation of exculpatory evidence, a dependency court determined that the mother was “using” her children, removed the girls from her custody, and the girls ended up in foster care.
Their defense to violating the girls’ rights sort of echoes the reasonably stupid cop rule. Citing Plumhoff v. Rickard, the social workers contended that they “cannot be said to have violated a clearly established right unless the right’s contours were sufficiently definite that any reasonable official in [his or her] shoes would have understood that [he or she] was violating it.” The 9th Circuit’s panel made short work of that defense, stating in part:
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. The social workers in this case are alleged to have knowingly and maliciously violated the law in their attempt to sever Preslie’s protected relationship with her mother. Perjury is a crime under both federal and California state law, as is the knowing submission of false evidence to a court. (My emphasis.)
The Court also cited section 820.21 of the California Government Code – widely debated during its 1995 enactment by organizations like the National Association of Social Workers — which strips immunity from social workers who engage in the very acts alleged in this case. Most of the lying and fabrication occurred in 1999, thus further dismissing the workers’ head-in-the-sand defense. So much for that.
This conduct was egregious, as Vreeken, Dwojak and Wilkins managed to engage in two kinds of premeditated deceit: suggestio falsi and suppresio veri. The first involves good ol’ fashioned, straight up lying by putting forth a bogus account of what was witnessed. The second involves attempting to bury or obscure something that is true.
The social workers committed the first kind in spades, when they repeatedly lied under oath to the dependency judge. The second type of deceit was also flagrantly employed by these maniacs when they repeatedly suppressed exculpatory evidence in their written court reports. It matters not whether they lied on criminal or civil proceedings, so their false testimony is ripe for state or federal prosecution. Whether that will happen remains to be seen, of course.
As for the appeal, one would think that if Orange County employees got caught engaging in nefarious conduct like this under color of law, their bosses would seek a quiet & confidential settlement of the lawsuit, instead of taking this all the way up to the 9th Circuit. This reminds me of another instance when a neighboring California county chose to defend outrageous misconduct to the very end, and to its peril.
What were they looking to get out of this case aside from avoiding a substantial payout to Hardwick? To create a relevant precedent that would absolve its social workers of any liability should they commit perjury and hide evidence while taking children way from their families? Let’s not be that cynical, shall we?
What happened to Hardwick’s mother could happen to any parent should their file land on the wrong sociopath social worker’s desk, no matter where the mother thinks she is on the good guy woman curve. And it’s not hard to imagine that Vreeken and her confederates engaged in similar conduct before whilst breaking up and destroying other people’s families.
*As noted by the 9th Circuit, Preslie’s mother wiped the floor with these scumbags in state court for the same conduct under the same legal theory, and got a substantial judgment plus attorney’s fees.