• December 20, 2013

Heavy MachineryLarge companies, large bureaucracies, state and federal governments — they resemble heavy machinery in that they are vital to our society but they don’t always work right.  They tend to be slow-moving. They can be potentially very dangerous for the human beings who work in and around them or for those (heaven help them) who depend on their proper functioning for basic life needs.  Our courts sometimes have to step in.

One of the problems with large bureaucracies is that personal responsibility becomes diluted and/or distorted.  We all recognize, for example, how often the person who is publicly identified and/or privately reprimanded for institutional failure may or may not be the actual bad actor. (Did April Todd-Malmov deserve to be terminated for MNSure’s problems or was she the scapegoat?  How could the public really know? How could any any person really know until a full investigation and report is completed by some objective and qualified third party?)

Having said that, one way the federal court system, in particular, works is that life-appointed (that is, dispassionate and independent) judges often find themselves being the government’s conscience (state and federal).  They stick up for the incarcerated, the disabled, and others who otherwise might be ignored by the behemoth bureaucracies that are supposed to care for them, are supposed to care about them, but sometimes fail miserably.

U.S. District Court Judge Donovan W. Frank stepped into this role this week.  In a withering order on a motion for sanctions, Judge Frank took the Minnesota Department of Human Services and the Minnesota AG’s office to task for having entered into a settlement promising to address problems in a facility for the care of disabled citizens, failing to address the problems, as promised, and failing to inform the Court, a specially appointed monitor, or the plaintiffs and their counsel of their lapse.  The state’s wrong-doing is set out in plaintiffs’ memorandum of law in support of its motion for sanctions. Judge Frank’s memorandum and order in response to that motion is here.

Credit the hard work of plaintiffs’ attorneys from O’Meara Leer Wagner Kohl, P.A.  Holding large institutions to their commitments for a vulnerable population requires tenacity.

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