Contempt Charges Filed Against Dad Who Defied Gag Order to Tell Daughter’s Heartbreaking Story
Editor’s Note: Lou Pelletier confirmed the charges during an interview with Glenn Beck. You can read that update at the bottom of this story.
The Massachusetts Department of Children & Families filed for Lou Pelletier — the father of 15-year-old Justina Pelletier who is the center of a controversy and legal battle involving custody, parents’ rights and two medical diagnoses — to be held in contempt of court, a family source told TheBlaze.
When Pelletier spoke with TheBlaze this week about Justina and the controversy regarding her diagnosis that led custody to be taken away from her parents for the last year, he broke a gag order issued by a Massachusetts judge.
The source, who asked to remain anonymous fearing further legal repercussions, said Tuesday the state’s DCF filed that Pelletier be held in contempt of court for breaking the order, using stories on TheBlaze and one that appeared last week in the New York Daily News as evidence.
Pelletier admitted to TheBlaze earlier this week that he wasn’t sure if his speaking out would help his family or hurt it.
“Should I even be doing what I’m doing today?” Lou told TheBlaze Monday. “You’re scared. If I do this, is it going to make it worse for Justina? Is it going to make it better?”
“I need to save my daughter. It’s not this court house. It’s not the state of Massachusetts,” he said at another point in our interview. “If we don’t do something, she is going to die.”
The injunction preventing the Pelletiers from talking publicly about their daughter in the context of the case was issued on Nov. 7, 2013, according to WTIC-TV. The gag order was issued after the media investigation by WTIC’s Beau Berman.
Going against a gag order, if found in contempt of a court order, could be considered either civil or criminal. Civil contempt of court would involve a failure to obey a court order. Criminal contempt of court is often issued as punishment to prevent future acts of contempt.
Penalties for being found in contempt of court, depending on the type, range from being required to pay the legal fees to paying a fine to jail time.
Jim Ianiri, an attorney in the Boston area who has been involved in custody battles over medical issues since the 1990s but who is not involved in this case, shared his legal expertise with TheBlaze about this situation.
“The court is going to determine whether or not to hold [a person] in contempt of court, and then impose the appropriate penalties, if you will, on that,” Ianiri explained.
A party files a motion to find someone in contempt of court. Then a judge would have to grant the motion, or allow motion, and then find someone in contempt of court or not in contempt of court, Ianiri continued.
“What they’re looking for is a contempt order. An order finding [someone] is in contempt could result in a fine,” he said.
Ianiri also speculated that in this case it would be civil contempt of court, as he thought criminal “is a little more extreme.”
The Pelletiers lost custody, at least temporarily, of Justina to DCF on Feb. 14, 2013. After taking her to Boston Children’s Hospital a few days prior when she had the flu, they say doctors at the hospital wanted to change her treatment regimen. Those physicians believed Justina had somatoform disorder, a psychological disorder that said the symptoms she experienced were all in her head. The Pelletiers, however, disagreed and believed she should continue treatment for mitochondrial disease, a disease she was diagnosed with and had been treated for by doctors at Tufts Medical Center.
When the Pelletiers went to Boston Children’s Hospital on Valentine’s Day 2013 to have their daughter discharged and taken to Tufts, they were served with a 51A form instead — one that accused them of medical abuse. Essentially, they were accused of treating their daughter medically in a way that she didn’t need.
Since that day, the Pelletiers have had limited communication with their daughter and faced numerous court hearings as it is still being decided what will happen with regard to her custody and treatment. The next court date for this case is on Monday, Feb. 24.
TheBlaze reached out to the Suffolk County Family and Probate Court to confirm the filing and were told to contact juvenile court in this case instead. The Suffolk County Juvenile Court Division told TheBlaze it could neither confirm nor deny a contempt of court filing at the time because records within the division are confidential because they involve children.
TheBlaze also sought comment from the Massachusetts Department of Children & Families for comment but did not hear back at the time of this posting.
Update: Lou Pelletier, Justina’s father, called into the Glenn Beck Radio Program Wednesday morning and confirmed that DCF has filed contempt of court charges against him.
Pelletier said he doesn’t yet know if the contempt of court will be civil or criminal nor does he know of a special court hearing set for this case yet.
On the show, Pelletier pointed out that in April DCF and Boston Children’s Hospital were aware that a Massachusetts newspaper was working on a story involving Justina’s case but noted that it wasn’t until seven months later after WTIC in Connecticut investigated that the gag order was imposed.
“Those are the things that just make you shake your head among so many other things,” Pelletier said, questioning why a gag order was not imposed earlier then.
Pelletier, who called TheBlaze later Wednesday morning, said the filing from DCF was six pages long. It cited three news articles as violations of Pelletier breaking the gag order. Two of these articles he said didn’t speak with him directly at the time but were sourcing other media outlets about what he said.
“Our attorney said it’s not a surprise,” Pelleteir said. “He’s going to prepare a motion to lift the gag order.”
When asked if he regrets talking with the media, Pelletier said, “we’re all in” at this point.
While Pelletier said his deciding to speak out was a “double-edged sword,” Beck asked if anything good has come out of his telling the family’s story so far.
“People have been flooding us with donations,” Pelletier said, noting it would help his family in what he likened to the “ultimate David and Goliath” story. “Many, many thanks to everybody that has contributed.”
“The biggest thing is, as I said yesterday, there are people with the power to stop this now,” Pelletier said later. “The governor of both states, the attorney generals, the DCF commissioners all have the power, executive authority, to stop this.”
A Massachusetts DCF spokesperson said in an email to TheBlaze Wednesday morning that it doesn’t provide comment or information about children in its custody. The spokesperson also pointed out that the court-issued gag order prohibited any parties involved from discussing the case or the situation surrounding it.