Depends on what the meaning of justice is

by David Nieporent on March 12, 2007

It takes a hard person to pick on the family of a dead child — but that’s why I’m here. In 2001, Tegan Rees, a 2-year old boy living in Idaho, was beaten to death by his mother’s fiance. The boy’s father had previously reported to Idado child welfare authorities that he saw bruises when he picked up his son from his ex-wife, but when they investigated, they decided it wasn’t abuse. That was just a few weeks before the boy was murdered. So, naturally, he sued the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare for $1 million.

Last week, the jury ruled 10-2 in favor of the state agency (AP, Mar. 11). The grandmother’s reaction?

“I’m just sickened,” Christie Rees told the Post Register. “I’m embarrassed that I live in Idaho. I thought finally Tegan would get justice.”

Justice? Keep in mind that the person who actually killed the boy was convicted of first degree murder, and sentenced to 22 years to life in prison.

I guess sometimes it really is about the money.

{ 9 comments }

1 OBQuiet 03.12.07 at 8:01 am

I think you may be being too hard on them.

Admittedly, the article does not go into much detail. But what other form of ‘justice’ is there if they feel that the agency was at least partially responsible for the death? It sounds like the jury agreed with that view based on the comments about lobbying for changes in procedure.

This could simply be a case of a grieving family wanting everyone responsible for the death punished in some way.

2 asg 03.12.07 at 11:53 am

It seems to me a clear case of injustice that the state agency that spectacularly failed to do its job was let off by a jury, although of course the jury saw all of the evidence and I haven’t. Regardless, what reason do you have to claim that the grandmother’s primary interest in the suit was money, rather than accountability for the people who let her and her grandson down?

3 Jim Collins 03.12.07 at 12:38 pm

This story just re-enforces my opinion of our current legal system. Our society has assumed the “somebody must pay” attitude. There is a trend to associate money with Justice. I don’t care what your views on OJ Simpson and Robert Blake are, but the idea of nailing them with a civil penalty because they weren’t found guilty just plain stinks.

4 David Nieporent 03.12.07 at 12:57 pm

ASG – leaving aside the factual question over whether the agency was partly responsible for the death (all we know is that he saw bruises, they investigated, and didn’t find evidence that the bruises were caused by abuse), how exactly does having taxpayers give a million dollars to the dead kid’s family equal “accountability” or “punishment” for the social worker who erred?

5 markm 03.12.07 at 1:14 pm

This depends on the facts – and after hearing the facts, the jury ruled for the agency. OTOH, the jurors quoted in the article don’t sound at all happy about the agency, either. I wonder if this is one of those cases where a state agency is, by law, held to a much lower standard than a private party would be?

At any rate, an investigator in a case like this has a tough job. Abuse and neglect allegations are often untrue, evidence is rarely clear, and a mistake in either direction is pretty bad for the kid involved. Remember, taking him away from his family is quite traumatic, too.

6 Xrlq 03.12.07 at 3:48 pm

All about money, my [antiquated synonym for donkey]. It’s not the grieving family’s fault that the only form of justice they can seek against the agency is money. That’s the system they have to work with. If justice in the form of prison time for the individual idiots who got the kid killed were available as an option, I have little doubt the family would gladly accept that, instead.

7 David Nieporent 03.12.07 at 5:39 pm

Xlrq: amazingly, they did get “justice in the form of prison time for the individual idiot[s] who got the kid killed.” As I said, 22 years to life.

It’s not the grieving family’s fault that all they can seek is money? Perhaps not — but it’s the grieving family’s fault for seeking money, and equating it with justice. Even if the social worker were negligent, it’s not as if the money comes out of her pocket. It comes from taxpayers. Where exactly is the “justice” in that?

8 TC 03.13.07 at 12:17 am

I was given a dire4ct response by a person, an attorney, about case where I so called “wronged” a person by calling them a name.

So after an attempt to be fleeced for 10k, I asked basically the same thing Dave. The answer, “Well it’s good gesture”. I queried as to how it can be construed as anything aside from outright bribery?

Like an ass whipped idiot I even offered them $2500, they refused, it went to hearing, I won. Paid nothing!

As for the tax payers being hurt. Big deal! Maybe the organizations the tax payers pay for can actually become better if they lose a small portion of their working budget for an obvious wrong!

A mill would have been but a drop in the bucket for the state to pick up. Probably should have sued for 50 mill, that would have gotten folks attention.

CPS sucks clear across the country. Time and time again we hear about forgotten kids in the system, and even some deaths.

A father loses his kid, and a simple mill with half of it or more going to some slime attorney is too much for a state to pay? PHARK that! Write the check, then fix your stupid employees!

9 asg 03.14.07 at 1:21 pm

David: It’s accountability for the government, of whom the social worker is an employee and in whose name the social worker was acting when the alleged tort was committed. In general, government employees who cost their agencies a lot of money face career setbacks, so while the damages themselves might not have brought accountability, they could trickle down to do so.

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