Juvenile Corrections wants lawsuit docs sealed

From the Associated Press

By REBECCA BOONE, Associated Press

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The Idaho Department of Juvenile Corrections wants to have nearly all the documents produced as part of a lawsuit brought by whistleblowers made confidential and sealed to the public.

The lawsuit was filed in federal court last year by a group of employees who said some staffers at a juvenile detention facility in Nampa had sex with incarcerated youths, that the department is rife with cronyism and unsafe policies that put staffers and children in danger, that some employees are committing fraud and wasting money, and that managers failed to take action when one juvenile was caught inappropriately touching another.

Now the Idaho Department of Juvenile Corrections is asking the attorney for the employees who brought the federal lawsuit to sign off on a proposed agreement that would keep all the department’s records — including emails, personnel records, and files relating to juvenile offenders — confidential, even after the lawsuit comes to an end.

The attorney for the plaintiffs, Andrew Schoppe, of Boise, says he won’t agree to the proposal to keep everything secret, though he does agree that “maintaining the confidentiality of the juveniles in IDJC’s custody is of the utmost importance.”

Schoppe said he also agrees that some parts of personnel records should be protected as well.

“However, this is a case against an agency of the State of Idaho and its public officials, and it is therefore inherently of interest to the public,” Schoppe wrote in a letter to the department’s legal counsel. “… As I see it, IDJC is basically seeking a ‘gag order’ that will prevent the Plaintiffs from continuing to discuss the case with local media outlets, which have taken a very legitimate interest in the safety of the juveniles and staff at IDJC facilities statewide and in the operations of IDJC as a whole.”

Monty Prow, spokesman for the Idaho Department of Juvenile Correction, said the agency wouldn’t comment on pending litigation. But department director Sharon Harrigfeld has previously released a prepared statement that said the department’s detention facilities are safe and department officials take appropriate action when allegations of misconduct arise.

Part of the allegations in the lawsuit of an employee having sex with an incarcerated juvenile appear to reference Julie Elizabeth McCormick, a former employee at the Nampa juvenile detention center who was charged with lewd conduct with a minor after prosecutors said she sexually abused a juvenile offender. McCormick has pleaded not guilty in Canyon County’s 3rd District Court, and she’s scheduled to stand trial in May.

The federal lawsuit is still fairly early in the court process, and so both sides are still working out just what potential evidence they need to share with the opposing legal team. So far, the Juvenile Correction Department has notified Schoppe and his clients that it will provide documents about its policies for reporting sexual abuse allegations, as well as materials relating to any incidents of actual or suspected sexual abuse by employees, including McCormick.

But the department’s attorneys also notified Schoppe in a legal filing that the department doesn’t have any documents showing if those allegations were reported to the Board of Juvenile Corrections, which oversees the department. In another legal filing the department’s attorneys denied allegations that leaders falsified reports on serious incidents at juvenile facilities, and denied allegations that there was a practice of hiding sexual abuse reports.

From the Associated Press

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