Judge Expected To Decide Custody Of West Hartford Teen
Family Says 15-Year-Old Justina Pelletier Was Taken To Hospital Saturday
|A prayer vigil was held for Justina Pelletier outside juvenile court in Boston Monday. (William Weir, Hartford Courant / March 17, 2014)|
7:14 p.m. EDT, March 17, 2014
BOSTON — A judge will decide by week’s end who gets custody of Justina Pelletier, a sick 15-year-old from West Hartford, Conn., who has been in the care of the state of Massachusetts for more than a year, a family attorney said Monday.
Juvenile court Judge Joseph Johnston could keep Justina at the Framingham youth and family center where she is living now, transfer her to the custody of the Connecticut Department of Children and Families, or release her to the care of her parents, the family attorney, Mathew Staver, said after a hearing.
The Pelletiers’ attorneys and Justina’s court-appointed attorney, Nancy Hathaway, agree that she should go home, Staver said, but added that the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families opposes that move.
“They want to kick the can to Connecticut and have her under care of DCF there,” he said. Staver said the family is opposed to transferring custody to the Connecticut agency.
“If Massachusetts has no basis for custody, then neither does Connecticut,” he said. “They didn’t have valid reasons in February 2013, and they’ve never had a single reason to withhold Justina from her home.”
The teen has been at Wayside Youth & Family Support Network since late January. Before that she was at Boston Children’s Hospital.
Staver said Monday’s hearing left the family very upset.
“They’re obviously not pleased by what happened in the court because they’re seeking a decision,” Staver said. “They visited with their daughter within the last week, and Justina said to them, ‘I feel like a prisoner. I don’t know why I can’t go home with my parents.’ ”
If Justina cannot return home, Staver said, the family will appeal the decision to other courts.
“I can tell you that if there is no significant movement on this case where the family gets Justina back, we will consider all other state and federal remedies to pursue very aggressively to put an end to this tragedy of 14 months,” Staver said.
Justina’s father, Lou Pelletier, did not speak after Monday’s hearing, though another daughter, Jennifer, said of Justina: “She wants to come home. She wants to go to school. She wants to see her friends.”
Before the hearing, Lou Pelletier and family friends said that on Saturday, Justina was taken to the emergency room at UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester for treatment of an unspecified illness, but was not admitted and returned to Wayside.
Lou Pelletier said his legal battle is no longer just a fight for his daughter but for “the many daughters and many sons [who] should never have to go through what we have.”
“God has placed me on the planet for a reason,” he said.
Patrick Mahoney, director of the Christian Defense Coalition, then led the crowd of about 40 in prayer. Mahoney said that, despite a court order two weeks ago transferring medical care of Justina from Boston Children’s Hospital to Tufts Medical Center, the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families has made no arrangements for Tufts doctors to see Justina.
On the courthouse steps, Massachusetts Rep. Jim Lyons, R-Andover, urged the state to transfer custody of Justina back to the Pelletiers, invoking the saint whose feast day is celebrated March 17.
“It is my hope, with the intercession of St. Patrick, that the judge will realize this is wrong,” he said.
After the hearing, Staver said the court on Monday also dealt with whether he would be allowed to represent the family in the case. Boston attorney Chester Tennyson has been the main attorney representing the Pelletiers, although the court also allowed Phil Moran, another Massachusetts attorney, to join the case.
Staver, who is based in Washington, D.C., and Florida, said the decision to allow him to represent the Pelletiers is pending.
Justina has been in Massachusetts’ custody since February 2013.
She was sent to Boston Children’s Hospital that month when she exhibited symptoms that the family said were related to mitochondrial disease, a diagnosis she received at Tufts Medical Center in 2011.
Doctors at Boston Children’s questioned the diagnosis and said they believed her symptoms — including weakness, headaches and abdominal pain — were psychologically induced. They diagnosed her with somatoform disorder, a mental disorder.
The state has refused to release Justina to her parents after Boston Children’s officials reported their suspicions of medical child abuse.