West Virginia officials named in a federal class action lawsuit involving the state’s foster care system have retained outside counsel.
The lawsuit filed October 1 on behalf of 12 foster care children says Gov. Jim Justice, Department of Health & Human Resources Secretary Bill Crouch and other state officials have failed to protect the rights of nearly 6,800 children under the state’s guardianship.
The 100-page-plus complaint says West Virginia’s foster children are housed in temporary shelters, hotels, institutions, or expensive out-of-state for-profit facilities where they never see a caseworker and are subjected to abuse.
Days after the suit was filed, Attorney General Patrick Morrisey’s office issued a request for proposals for outside counsel to handle the case.
Spokespersons for the Governor’s office and DHHR confirmed Monday that Washington-D.C. based law firm Brown and Peisch was granted a contract at a rate of $575 an hour for legal fees.
"There were five bidders and DHHR narrowed the selection to those with experience with this type of litigation and picked the firm with the lowest bid," DHHR spokewoman Allison Adler said in a statement.
Macia Lowry, executive director of A Better Childhood -- one of the organizations representing plaintiffs in the case -- said they agreed to extend a deadline for the state to respond. Attorneys for the state originally had until this week to respond to the complaint -- but with that extension granted, Lowry said the state now has until December 2.
She said the selection of a firm outside of West Virginia -- and the case being represented exclusively by outside counsel -- is unlike similar cases A Better Childhood has handled.
“We have never, I think, seen a case where a state was solely represented by outside counsel," Lowry said, noting that her organization has been involved in similar litigation in other states. "So, I think that was a little bit of a surprise to us.”