August 21, 2015

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Federal court finds Orange County liable for child protective services investigation

GOSHEN – Orange County violated the Constitution when it questioned a five-year-old girl about second-hand, unfounded child abuse allegations without her parents’ consent, a federal court judge ruled.

The lawsuit, filed by the child and her parents, Marie Condoluci and Steven Phillips, stems from a state hotline call from a pastor who said a parishioner/employee had “concerns” that the parents were abusing their daughter by posting a photo of her on the refrigerator wearing a mermaid costume bikini.

The state agency reported it to the Orange County Child Abuse Investigation Unit, which went to the girl’s school and interviewed her without her parents’ knowledge or consent, said their attorney, Stephen Bergstein.

“What the family went through was pretty serious,” Bergstein said.  “They were shocked and stunned and very much put off with what happened that their daughter was brought into this room and asked all of these intrusive questions and any parent, I think would be horrified to have this happen to them especially when it’s all going on without tour knowledge.”

Judge Sidney Stein granted the parent’s motion for summary judgment against the county finding that the county violated the girl’s rights.

A jury trial is set for next January to determine the damages the county must pay.  The jury will also decide if the Goshen School District is liable for allowing investigators into the school to question the girl.

County spokesman Justin Rodriguez, who noted the incident occurred prior to County Executive Steven Neuhaus' administration, said the county “will review its protocol based on the court’s decision. We strive to protect all children who need our services.”

Rodriguez said the county Social Services Department “will continue to act in the best interest of all children they serve.”


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