Constitutional Law

Judge accused of signing blank child-removal orders isn't immune from suit, federal court rules


Because pre-signing blank court orders for others to fill out after hours is an administrative rather than a judicial function requiring discretion, a Michigan judge who allegedly followed this practice is not immune from liability in a lawsuit filed by parents who briefly lost custody of their child, a federal judge has ruled.

Wayne County Family Court Judge Judy A. Hartsfield hence must face the suit, which was brought by an Ann Arbor couple. Their 7-year-old son was taken from them for several days and put in foster care without a judicial determination that he was in danger. The removal came after the boy was mistakenly given hard lemonade at a Detroit Tigers football game by his father, a professor at the University of Michigan, who didn’t realize it contained alcohol, according to the Detroit Free Press and Deadline Detroit.

However, U.S. District Judge Avern Cohn dismissed claims brought by the parents against two supervisors with the Department of Human Services because, the judge said, they were relying on what they thought was a valid court order when making the foster-care place. Claims against Detroit police have been halted for now, due to the city’s ongoing bankruptcy case.

A press release by the American Civil Liberties Union, which helped the family sue, provides additional details.

Cohn assumed for the purpose of deciding the motion that the allegations made by the plaintiffs, Christopher Ratté and Claire Zimmerman, were true.

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