ALBANY – A federal judge ruled on Wednesday, Feb. 28, the Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs unlawfully redacted information on records it provided to Disability Rights New York.
“The Justice Center must now comply with federal law and stop undermining our Congressional mandate to protect and advocate for people with disabilities.” Tim Clune, DRNY executive director.
DRNY is the entity designated to advocate for the disabled in this state and part of that charge is to investigate aspects of all allegations of abuse against the disabled that are brought to its attention.
It received four such allegations in 2013 and 2014.
In 2013, the Justice Center opened its doors with a similar mission – to investigate allegations of abuse against the disabled in state run or state funded facilities except it is empowered by the state Legislature rather than Congress.
The Justice Center investigated the four cases mentioned above, but DRNY, acting in its oversight duties, requested records from the Justice Center. The records were turned over – months after the initial request – but were heavily redacted.
DRNY, in its Jan. 9, 2015 lawsuit, claimed it cannot adequately conduct its oversight duties with redacted records.
Judge Gary Sharp, in issuing a summary judgement page decision agreed.
“Specifically, the New York State Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs violated the Developmental Disabilities Assistance Bill of Rights Act of 2000 and the Protection and Advocacy for Individuals with Mental Illness Act of 1986 by redacting information from records provided to DNRY, withholding records relied upon in conducting investigations and failing to timely comply with disclosure obligations” according to the ruling.
Spokeswoman Christine Buttigieg said Justice Center officials are reviewing the decision.
The federal government, when authorized by Congress, gives states millions of dollars to provide for the disabled. An unknown portion of that money is contingent upon the state’s having a Protection & Advocacy System in place. In New York, the governor and the Legislature designated DRNY as its P&A in 2013.
In the lawsuit, DRNY said it should have access to all records – draft and final documents, handwritten notes, electronic files and video and audio recordings – of any individual:
-With developmental disabilities and mental illness who have authorized DRNY to access their records.
-Who cannot authorize access due to his or her mental or physical state and/or the individual does not have a legal guardian or legal representative
-Who has complained, or has had someone else complain to DRNY, about the care given or if there has been abuse or neglect.
The Justice Center did provide records, but claimed it had the right to redact certain information that Sharp, in his decision, said was a violation of federal law and the Justice Center will likely have to send the documents that are not redacted and do so in a more timely manner than it provided the redacted copies.