BOSTON — A juvenile court judge on Monday afternoon made no ruling in the case of the Connecticut teen at the center of a high-profile custody and medical diagnosis battle. The judge instead said that he would make a ruling by Friday, Mat Staver with Liberty Counsel announced outside of the Boston courthouse Monday afternoon, calling it “another kicking of the can.”
Justina Pelletier has been a ward of the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families for more than a year when custody was taken from her parents in a case of alleged medical child abuse after they disagreed with a treatment plan set forth by Boston Children’s Hospital. In the months following, Lou and Linda Pelletier from West Hartford, Conn., appeared in court several times, fighting for a resolution to regain custody and medical care of their 15-year-old daughter.
After the latest hearing at the Edward W. Brooke Courthouse, Staver said that Judge Joseph Johnson would be ruling on Justina’s custody by Friday. All options are on the table, including custody going back to her parents as part of a conditional plan, custody being transferred to Connecticut’s Department of Children and Families or custody remaining with Massachusetts DCF.
Staver also said the judge would rule on the family’s request to have him as an official lawyer on the case, which is something he said DCF opposes.
“I’ve been practicing for 27, 28 years and have never seen this happen in any other situation,” Staver said. The lawyer also said that he sees the case as a “significant violation of the [Pelletiers] constitutional rights.”
Phil Moran, an attorney based in Massachusetts who is joining the family’s legal team, said the Pelletiers are not pleased with today’s outcome because they were expecting results. They were expecting Staver to be allowed onto the case and they were expecting an outcome regarding Justina’s custody. He also said they are upset that DCF opposes the conditional plan they set forth to bring their daughter back into their home.
Neither Lou nor Linda Pelletier spoke with the press after the hearing, but their eldest daughter Jennifer said “we just want our sister home” and noted that they are still hopeful.
“I am always hopeful. I am always try to stay positive,” Jennifer Pelletier said.
As for her sister’s condition, Jennifer Pelletier said Justina is “definitely different from when she went in. The pictures don’t lie.”
“She keeps asking, ‘Is it this week? Is it this week?’” Jennifer Pelletier said of her younger sister’s own desire to go home. “She’s always asking if we believe her.”
Several years ago, Justina Pelletier was diagnosed by Dr. Mark Korson from Tufts Medical Center with mitochondrial disease, a disease where the mitochondria of cells do not function properly. This disease can manifest itself in different ways depending on the patient and can be difficult to diagnose. Justina’s older sister also was diagnosed with mitochondrial disease.
Back in Feb. 2013, after suffering complications with the flu, doctors in Connecticut advised that Justina be taken to a gastrointestinal specialist working at Boston Children’s Hospital. Once admitted to the hospital through its emergency room though, Justina’s parents say she was seen by another doctor who later said her symptoms were not caused by mitochondrial disease but a psychiatric issue called somatoform disorder.
At first, the Pelletiers said they were on board with a new approach to treat Justina, that is until they learned that Boston Children’s wanted to remove the teen’s treatments for her symptoms of mitochondrial disease. On Feb. 14, 2013, the Pelletier’s tried to discharge Justina from BCH to take her to Tufts Medical Center instead, but were met with a form alleging medical child abuse and the state was granted emergency custody.
After months of trying to regain custody and the right to make medical decisions for their daughter, the Pelletiers spoke to WTIC-TV about the case in Nov. 2013. After this local news report, the judge issued a controversial gag order on the case.
By Feb. 2014, Lou Pelletier had enough. He broke his gag order and spoke with TheBlaze, saying he believed his daughter was “kidnapped by Boston Children’s Hospital” and provided other details about her situation. At this time Justina was no longer living at BCH, but at another non-medical facility in Framingham, Mass. Shortly after this story published, the state Department of Children and Families filed a motion that Lou Pelletier be held in contempt of court for speaking about his daughter with the press.
This didn’t last long though. When constitutional lawyers with Liberty Counsel got involved, DCF dropped its motion and the judge lifted the gag order .What’s more, in this same lawyers-only hearing that was not previously scheduled, Justina’s care was transferred to Tufts Medical Center with a team of doctors that included physicians from BCH.
But advocates for the family didn’t think this was enough.
Rev. Patrick Mahoney, who is the family’s spokesman, told TheBlaze at the time that while these were “significant victories,” “no one can get overly excited until Justina is returned home. There is not exuberance until Justina is back.”
Since then, petitions were launched by state legislators in Massachusetts and Connecticut to release custody back to the parents. In Connecticut, state Sen. Joe Markley penned a letter signed by at least a dozen other lawmakers, asking that if custody were transferred to Connecticut DCF that the agency not allow the case to go through a second, lengthy bureaucratic process.
“We see no reason for the Connecticut Department of Children and Families to involve itself in a case which has been so thoroughly examined to so little effect. This distressing story should end with Justina at home in the care of her parents, and we hope you will not delay that resolution,” the letter said.
Massachusetts DCF broke its silence on the case in late February.
“Our primary goal has always been the health and well-being of Justina,” DCF spokesman Alec Loftus said in an emailed statement. “We want the parents to be able to work with the providers and courts to ultimately move Justina back to her home state of Connecticut. That is the objective, and is consistent with our previous efforts to find an appropriate placement near her home. A medical team has been identified at Tufts, the family’s provider of choice, with the clinical expertise to care for Justina.”
No new court date has been set, but the judge is expected to rule on Justina’s custody no later than Friday. If things do not work out in the Pelletier’s favor, Staver said after Monday’s court hearing that the family and its legal team “will consider all other state and federal remedies.”
This story has been updated to correct that it was Jennifer Pelletier who spoke not Jessica Pelletier.