‘Irresponsible’ and ‘Wrong’: Lawyer Hits Back at Judge’s Leaked Ruling That Includes Accusations Against Justina Pelletier’s Parents
A lawyer supporting the family of Justina Pelletier hit back at the reasoning presented in a leaked court ruling by a Boston judge who on Tuesday awarded permanent custody of the Connecticut teen to the Massachusetts agency that has had temporary custody for more than a year after her parents disagreed over a hospital’s medical diagnosis.
The document signed by Suffolk County Juvenile Court Judge Joseph Johnston, who for months has presided over several hearings regarding the Pelletier case, explains his reason for changing the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families’ temporary custody of Justina to permanent custody Tuesday.
Citing evidence presented by the Massachusetts DCF, Connecticut DCF and a guardian ad litem, who conducted an investigation on what was in Justina’s best interest, Johnston wrote “the placement of Justina in conditional custody of her parents is not in her best interest at this time. Therefore, I grant MA DCF custody of Justina.”
The 15-year-old was removed from her parents’ custody in February 2013 following accusations of medical child abuse. Lou and Linda Pelletier had been treating Justina for mitochondrial disease, but when they brought her to Boston Children’s Hospital with the flu, doctors there said she had somatoform disorder, a psychiatric disorder, instead. The commonwealth stepped in when the hospital raised concerns after the Pelletiers disagreed with the new treatment plan, which would shift to treatment for somatoform. Lou and Linda Pelletier have been fighting to regain custody ever since, appearing in court many times and arguing that they had been treating their daughter for mitochondrial disease at the direction of a doctor.
One of the reasons presented in Johnston’s Tuesday decision was “extensive psychiatric and medical testimony” that found “Justina suffers from a persistent and severe Somatic Symptom Disorder,” contrary to the diagnosis of mitochondrial disease that was diagnosed by Dr. Mark Korson at Tufts Medical Center several years ago.
But Mat Staver, the founder and chairman of the Liberty Counsel and whom the Pelletiers requested be admitted as a lawyer onto the case — a request Judge Johnston also denied Tuesday — said the court order doesn’t present all the evidence.
Staver said three psychiatric experts and Dr. Korson testified in court in the last months of 2013. One of the psychiatrists was the one from Boston Children’s Hospital who first diagnosed Justina with somatoform disorder. That doctor maintained a somatoform diagnosis to the court, Staver said. Another was from Boston Children’s who disagreed with the somatoform diagnosis but said Justina had another psychiatric condition known as conversion disorder. The third, Staver said, was a psychologist who had seen since Justina since 2006, well before the custody battle began. This psychologist believed that Justina suffered from a form a depression that resulted from her symptoms with mitochondrial disease. Dr. Korson maintained in court that Justina had mitochondrial disease, which impacts the energy-producing organelles of her cells.
To Staver, this shows that “only one doctor insists that she has somaoform. So that’s the so-called evidence that the judge is relying upon.”
The court document also said that in late December 2013, Connecticut DCF “substantiated the parents for neglect.” Staver countered that this state agency had previously investigated the Pelletiers and found no form of neglect or abuse, but when it was approached by the Massachusetts DCF, it “reiterat[ed] what DCF Massachusetts was saying.”
“For this judge to put that in this order is irresponsible and it’s wrong,” Staver said.
Judge Johnston also mentioned throughout the order that Massachusetts DCF had tried numerous times to have Connecticut DCF take over custody of Justina.
“It was abundantly clear to this court then, as it is now, that CT DFC should have immediately accepted this case concerning Justina …,” the order stated.
So why didn’t the agency take the teen into her home state if it was approached several times to do so by Massachusetts DCF?
“Because they didn’t see any reason to get involved,” Staver speculated. “Why would the get involved if they found no evidence of neglect.”
Connecticut DCF did not immediately respond to TheBlaze’s request for clarification on this point.
The court document also said Lou and Linda Pelletier were “verbally abusive to Justina’s hospital providers.” It cited other parents complaining that the Pelletiers were saying their children were being kidnapped and noted threats made to medical employees to have licenses revoked.
“I can’t speak for every situation, but I can certainly understand parents who take kids to the ER at request of their doctor and still 14 months later she has not returned home. … This would push any parent to engage in language that they probably otherwise wouldn’t use,” Staver said.
Johnston noted that the court considered granting conditional custody to the Pelletiers but “very concerning conduct … does not give this court any confidence they will comply with the conditions of custody.” Evidence of this conduct presented in Johnston’s ruling were allegations that Lou Pelletier threatened a social worker, who was afterward removed from the case, and the media presence outside DCF offices during the Pelletiers’ scheduled visits with Justina. The Pelletiers have told TheBlaze in the past that they never asked media to show up in these instances.
“Instead of engaging in quality visits with Justina, the parents use profanity directed at MA DCF personnel in Justina’s presence,” Johnston’s ruling said.
Johnston also included that he thinks Lou and Linda Pelletier should be “psychologically and clinically evaluated,” noting that it must be coordinated through Connecticut’s DCF.
Pelletier family spokesman Rev. Patrick Mahoney told TheBlaze Tuesday evening that he thinks the case “clearly appears to be the strong-arming of the Pelletiers who refuse to go along with Boston Children’s and what DCF has ordered. They are being punished and they are the canary in the coal mine.
“DCF, the courts and everyone else involved is sending a message,” Mahoney said.
That message, he said, is if you question these entities, they’re going to say, “‘Guess what? We’re going to take your child and not give them back to you.’
“This is an absolute abuse of power by entities that are designed to protect us,” Mahoney continued. “We don’t want to believe that. We can’t believe that. That’s horrifying to believe, but that’s what we have here. If there were other issues of abuse or mistreatment by the family, it would have emerged by now.”
Appearing Wednesday on Fox News, Justina’s sister Jennifer Pelletier said she thinks the Massachusetts agency is the “one neglecting my sister, physically, mentally.”
“If something happens to my sister in their care … she’s not going to be another number,” Jennifer said.
While the Pelletiers can file a motion in court again in May — just before her 16th birthday — to try and restore custody of their daughter, Staver told TheBlaze that the family was going to appellate court later this week.
Those supporting the Free Justina Coalition told TheBlaze they plan to ramp out outreach efforts and target key players who can make change happen.
Keith Mason, president of Personhood USA, said the Free Justina Coalition plans to appeal to Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick to step into this matter. He also said that they’re considering a permanent office in Boston to organize outreach efforts.
“We’re looking for thousands of people to gather, not just hundreds,” Mason said.