Teen's attorney sues county over weeks-long detention


An attorney for a child in the custody of Delaware County last week filed official notice of his intent to sue the entire county legislature and several county department heads for an alleged violation of his client’s civil and legal rights.

Lee Hartjen, an attorney based in Cobleskill, filed a notice of claim with the county clerk’s office on Nov. 21 on behalf of his client, referred to in the document as “JXX,” against each of the 19 town supervisors and county attorney Amy Merklen, both individually and in their professional capacities, as well as Social Services Commissioner Dana Scuderi-Hunter, Assistant Social Services Commissioner Sylvia Armano, Probation Director Scott Glueckert and Public Defender Joseph Ermeti. 

In the document, he alleged a “violation of civil and legal rights,” including his client’s right to counsel, in addition to claims of false incarceration and negligence, actions Hartjen described as “ongoing” and from which “damages … continue.”

Merklen and Delaware County Board Chairwoman Tina Molé, supervisor of the town of Bovina,* declined to comment, and Glueckert, Ermeti and Hartjen did not return requests for comment.

Scuderi-Hunter said she was aware that she was named a party in the claim but has not been officially served, noting that the documents were likely delivered to her office, to which she has not had access since she was placed on paid administrative leave in July.

She confirmed that JXX was identified as Child No. 2 in a disciplinary hearing brought against her by the county in August after the county Board of Supervisors voted to formalize her suspension and serve charges against her.

Testimony from several witnesses during the disciplinary hearing revealed that Judge Gary Rosa remanded Child No. 2 to detention on April 23.

What was intended to be a 10-day sentence lasted until May 31, according to testimony. Officials from the county Department of Drug and Alcohol Rehabilitation Services had recommended the child’s placement in an inpatient rehabilitation program, but the child, just shy of his 16th birthday at the time, was too young to be admitted at the recommended facility.

Scuderi-Hunter came under fire from the county for continuously advocating against the child’s incarceration, echoing requests for his placement into an inpatient rehabilitation program.

“I just wanted the child in my custody to get the treatment he needed,” Scuderi-Hunter said. “I certainly didn’t want him to languish in detention.”

On May 31, Judge Rosa ordered the child into the custody of a foster home and that he be fitted with a GPS ankle monitor to prevent him from running away, according to testimony from several witnesses. Glueckert testified at Scuderi-Hunter’s hearing that the child ran away from the foster home and cut off the ankle monitor just three days later, suffering severe burns to his leg that required a skin graft.

Hartjen, as a member of the panel for the Office of Attorneys for Children under the Third Judicial Department of the New York State Supreme Court Appellate Division and the panel for indigent defendants in Delaware and other counties, was appointed to represent the child at a June 6 hearing to answer criminal charges of damaging the ankle monitor, according to the document.

JXX was eventually ordered to an inpatient rehabilitation program on June 13, Scuderi-Hunter testified at her hearing, but Judge Rosa gave social services representatives just one hour to find a facility that would accept the child, warning that he would remand JXX back to detention if one was not found.

“You’ve got to keep trying with kids,” Scuderi-Hunter said. “I don’t give up on kids — I don’t give up on anybody.”

Hartjen accused the defendants of depriving his client of proper treatment, subjecting him to illegal confinement and “illegal, unlawful and harmful terms and orders” that continue to harm the child’s “physical, mental, educational, social and psychological well-being.”

In the document, Hartjen said he “developed great concerns” regarding the county’s treatment of his client and sought guidance on the matter from representatives from the Office of Attorneys for Children, whom he said “encouraged/directed” him to file the notice of claim on behalf of the child.

“The Claimant was falsely imprisoned, was subjected to being outfitted with electronic monitoring with no legal Order or basis to do so, suffered physical injury while in the custody of Respondents or on probation through the Respondent, was subject to illegal prosecution by the Respondents and deprived of appropriate legal representation by the Respondents, was deprived of legally required and warranted services by the Respondents,” he wrote.

Hartjen requested the court appoint an independent guardian to represent his client in regard to any claim resulting from the notice.

Sarah Eames, staff writer, can be reached at seames@thedailystar.com or 607-441-7213. Follow her @DS_SarahE on Twitter.

*Story changed at 6:54 a.m. Nov. 29 to add Mole's first name and title.

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