Arnold & Porter filed suit this week in Washington federal court on behalf of Maryland-based fathers seeking custody of their minor children, who were put in foster care by D.C. officials after being removed from the custody of Washington-based mothers.
Partnering with the Children's Law Center, Arnold & Porter retired partner Jack Lipson filed the lawsuit (PDF) Wednesday in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Lipson said the firm has a longstanding and "great relationship" with the Children's Law Center.
Children's Law Center executive director said Judith Sandalow, also citing the firm's ties to the nonprofit, said in a phone interview Friday that her group approached Arnold & Porter about the case.
“We recruited them as pro bono co-counsel,” Sandalow said. “They have great federal litigation expertise.”
The lawsuit centers on the experiences of two men who live in Prince George’s County, Md., and share custody of minor children with mothers who live in the District. According to the complaint, the minor children were placed into foster care after being removed from the custody of their mothers, over objections from the fathers.
At issue is a section of D.C. law that requires non-residents to undergo an investigation by their home state before Washington will release children into their custody. The investigation “may take several months or longer to complete,” according to the lawsuit.
The plaintiffs are arguing that city officials have misapplied the law to require an investigation of non-resident parents, as opposed to potential foster or adoptive parents. The lawsuit claims violations of both the parents’ and children’s right to due process, alleging that the city is denying them the right to live together as a family.
“In our view, there is a violation of constitutional protections that ought not to exist,” Lipson said. “I feel that we’ve got a sound legal theory here and we intend to pursue it.”
The city, represented by the Office of the Attorney General, has vowed to defend the decisions of the Child and Family Services Agency. The mayor’s office and the agency referred questions to the attorney general’s office.
“The Office of the Attorney General will defend vigorously the District, the Mayor, and CFSA’s efforts to ensure that children are in a safe home. We will provide our specific responses to the lawsuit in court,” the office said in a statement.
Sandalow, in a statement, disagreed.
“It is illegal and causes irreparable harm to place a child in foster care for extended periods of time when that child has a fit parent willing and able to take care of him,” she said. “Which side of Eastern Avenue a parent lives on should not determine whether a child gets to live with her parent.”