A Massachusetts juvenile court judge Friday again delayed ruling on the case of a Connecticut teen in the middle of a lengthy custody battle, which her parents have been fighting against the state’s protective agency for more than a year.
Though the family’s lawyers said after a hearing Monday that Judge Joseph Johnson would rule on custody of 15-year-old Justina Pelletier by Friday, family attorney Phil Moran told the Boston Globe Friday afternoon that Johnson had delayed his ruling until Tuesday.
“It is an outrage that Judge Johnston continues this nightmare for the Pelletier family and Justina. By delaying his decision, he disregards the emotional toll upon Justina and her family,” the family’s spokesman Rev. Patrick Mahoney said in an emailed statement. “The family is angered and heartbroken at this new delay. I just spoke with Jennifer Pelletier after the family’s weekly meeting with Justina. In their meeting today, Justina was hopeful that she would be released back to the loving arms of her family. This new delay crushes her hopes of a speedy return.”
According to the Globe, the judge will rule on a motion presented by Justina’s court-appointed lawyer and the attorneys representing her parents that Lou and Linda Pelletier be granted “conditional custody,” which would allow the judge to remove custody if the terms are violated.
Justina has been a ward of the Massachusetts Department of Children & Families for 13 months after the agency took custody when her parents tried to remove her from Boston Children’s Hospital after disagreeing with doctors’ treatment plans.
Justina was diagnosed several years ago with mitochondrial disease by a doctor at Tufts Medical Center. She was treated for the disease, which manifests itself in different ways depending on the patient, and was thriving, her parents, Linda and Lou Pelletier, have said.
Justina came down with the flu in 2013 and, due to complications, Dr. Mark Korson — the same physician who diagnosed her with mitochondrial disease — recommended she be taken to see a gastrointestinal specialist at Boston Children’s. Once admitted through the emergency room, her parents say she was seen by another doctor who determined that she didn’t have mitochondrial disease but somatoform disorder, a disorder that put the root of her symptoms as psychological.
A couple of days later, Justina’s parents disagreed with BHC’s outlined plan of treatment that would remove some of her treatments for mitochondrial disease and tried to discharge her to take her to Tufts. At this point, they were met with allegations of medical child abuse and the DCF took emergency custody on Feb. 14, 2013.
Lou and Linda Pelletier have been in and out of court over the past year, trying to regain custody and have their daughter’s treatment for mitochondrial disease restored. Most developments in the case didn’t come until the first months of 2014 when Johnson ruled to have Justina moved to a non-medical facility outside of BCH and agreed to have Tufts Medical Center take over her medical care.
Earlier this week, yet another hearing in Boston was expected to rule on Justina’s custody but Johnson put it off for the end of the week. On Monday, lawyers and the family’s spokesman were not positive that custody would be restored, though they expressed that it was their ultimate goal.
“At this moment the parents are not hopeful about anything,” Moran, the Pelletiers’ attorney, said at a press conference outside the courthouse.
Moran and Mat Staver with Liberty Counsel, who is trying to be brought on formally as the family’s lawyer but is being opposed by the DCF, said the Pelletiers have drawn up a proposed plan that would bring Justina back home into their custody. However, the lawyers said DCF was opposed to this plan and was considering transferring the teen to Connecticut DCF custody.
“DCF did indicate to the court that they want Justina to go back to Connecticut,” Moran said.
At the time, Staver said if custody was not restored to the parents they would “consider all other state and federal remedies.”
The DCF broke its silence on the case in 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.”
This story has been updated.