DETROIT (WWJ/AP) – A federal judge is refusing to throw out a lawsuit against a Wayne County judge in a dispute over a child who was temporarily removed from his parents after mistakenly drinking alcohol at a Detroit Tigers game.
Leo Ratte was 7-years-old in April 2008 when his father, Christopher Ratte, mistakenly gave him a “Mike’s Hard Lemonade.” Ratte, who is a University of Michigan professor, said he didn’t know the drink contained alcohol. A security guard who saw the boy with the beverage contacted police.
Following the incident, a police officer took steps to put Leo into protective custody for several days. Leo’s parents later filed a lawsuit, saying their rights were violated. According to the suit, Wayne County Judge Judy Hartsfield had a practice of signing blank child-removal orders and leaving them to be filled in by authorities.
In allowing the case to proceed, Judge Avern Cohn said the practice of pre-signing orders violated the “clearly established” rights of parents to notice and a hearing before the removal of their child. Cohn also ruled that Hartsfield was not entitled to judicial immunity because in pre-signing the orders, she was not action as a judge, but rather as an administrator.
Click here to read the court’s opinion (.pdf format)
In filing the lawsuit, the ACLU of Michigan argued that the state’s standard for the emergency removal of children was unconstitutional, as it did not require state officials to prove that the child is in immediate danger.
While Ratte was being questioned by police, Comerica Park medical staff examined Leo and gave him a clean bill of health, according to the lawsuit. Leo was also taken to Children’s Hospital in Detroit, where he was examined again and found to have no alcohol in his blood. The suit says even though Leo he was cleared to go home with his parents, he was taken into custody by Children’s Protective Services.
According to the suit, CPS refused to release Leo into the custody of his mother, Claire Zimmerman, who was not at the game, or to his aunts — one of whom is a social worker and licensed foster parent.
Several days after the incident, the suit says Leo was finally released into his mother’s custody after Ratte agreed to move out of the house and only have supervised contact with his son. Soon after, the case was dismissed and Ratte was allowed back into his home.
The ACLU of Michigan argues that the law fails to adequately protect the rights of innocent parents such as Leo’s mother. The suit says Zimmerman’s constitutional rights were violated when her son was removed from her custody, even though she was not present at the ballpark and had nothing to do with the Mike’s Hard Lemonade mistake.
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