Federal judge upholds $100K daily fine as State appeals contempt ruling in foster care legal battle

One day following the pronouncement of U.S. District Judge Janis Graham Jack that the Texas Health and Human Services Commission has been found in contempt of her court, legal representatives of the State have taken immediate action by filing an appeal. The appeal was submitted to the Fifth Circuit on behalf of Governor Greg Abbott, Department of Family and Protective Services Commissioner Stephanie Muth, and Health and Human Services Executive Commissioner Cecile Erwin Young, all of whom are defendants in the State’s ongoing legal dispute regarding deficiencies in the foster care system since 2011.

Judge Jack’s ruling on Monday included a daily fine of $50,000 for each of the two orders that she found the State to have violated, resulting in a cumulative penalty of $100,000 per day. The contempt ruling specifically targeted Commissioner Young and HHSC, citing chronic inadequacies in the agency’s provider investigation unit in conducting timely and effective investigations into allegations of abuse and neglect from children under permanent state custody.

In addition to lodging an appeal, the State’s legal representatives have also filed an urgent motion with Judge Jack’s court, requesting a halt to the contempt order and fines, which took effect immediately, until a decision is reached by the Fifth Circuit on the State’s appeal. However, shortly after the emergency motion was submitted, Judge Jack issued an order denying the request, emphasizing the importance of child safety and referencing previous docket entries.

Consequently, the court has declined to suspend the daily fines imposed on the State while awaiting the Fifth Circuit’s ruling, despite the State’s assertion in their emergency motion of a high likelihood of success due to substantial compliance with the remedial orders in question. Meanwhile, attorney Paul Yetter, representing the plaintiffs in the case, expressed disappointment in the State’s actions, stating that the appeal conveys a negative message to Texas children about the lack of concern for their safety exhibited by state leadership.

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