A Massachusetts judge ruled Tuesday that the Connecticut teen in the middle of a contentious custody battle between her parents and the state will remain in the custody of the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families.
The Boston Globe reported that Suffolk County juvenile court Judge Joseph Johnston granted “permanent” custody to the state DCF. This decision was in response to a motion filed by Lou and Linda Pelletier, Justina’s parents, and her court-appointed lawyer for a “conditional custody” plan. Up until this point, DCF only had temporary custody of Justina, which it had maintained for more than a year.
Mat Staver, attorney and founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, told TheBlaze that as he understands the order, filed Tuesday afternoon, the Department of Children and Families will retain custody of Justina for now.
“This is just completely unacceptable. The family asked us to pursue any other opportunities and appeals,” Staver said. “The family is beyond fed-up.”
In response to the Boston Globe’s report that the state will retain “permanent” custody, Staver said, “there’s no way they could have done that.”
“I’ll have to look into that more, but I can’t imagine this is the case in this situation,” he said.
Staver’s own motion to be formally admitted onto the case as an attorney for Lou and Linda Pelletier was denied by the judge.
The family’s spokesman Rev. Patrick Mahoney also told TheBlaze Tuesday night that, in his understanding, the ruling is not meant to imply that Justina will never be returned to her parents.
“It’s not a lie, but it’s not 100 percent accurate,” Mahoney told TheBlaze. “In putting the word ['permanent'] out without explaining it, it appears to the casual reader that somehow the Pelletiers have completely lost of Justina until she’s 18 years old and that’s not the case.”
Mahoney said in a statement that the Pelletiers”are crushed and heartbroken to see their daughter violated like this. They are rightfully worried for her safety.”
DCF in a statement maintained that its “primary goal has always been the health and wellbeing of Justina, and finding a solution that would allow her to return to Connecticut.”
“That has not changed in the face of this ruling,” the statement continued. “The department is exploring all options that will allow Justina to return to her home state where she has the support of her friends, family, school and community.”
The agency also clarified that the authority remains with the court to rule on custody matters. Staver said the Pelletiers will be allowed to file another motion with the court to try and obtain custody again through the legal system on May 25.
Lou and Linda Pelletier have been fighting to regain custody of their daughter after allegations of medical child abuse arose 14 months ago.
Justina was diagnosed with mitochondrial disease several years ago at Tufts Medical Center and put on a treatment plan to alleviate some of her symptoms. When her parents took her to Boston Children’s Hospital last year for complications with the flu, doctors there said she had somatoform disorder, a psychiatric disorder, instead.
After the Pelletiers disagreed with Boston Children’s treatment plan and tried to take her back to Tufts, they were accused of medical child abuse. DCF took custody of the teen on Feb. 13, 2013.
Court decisions in the Pelletier case were delayed several times in the last year, with the most movement coming in the first three months of 2014.
Keith Mason, president of Personhood USA, which is a part of the Free Justina coalition, said with each delay it seems like Justina is “being treated worse than a piece of property.”
The family also contends that Justina has not been seen by any physicians at Tufts Medical Center, which is now leading her medical team that includes physicians from other hospitals as well, after Johnston put Tufts in charge of her medical care earlier this month.
The Pelletiers say their daughter’s health is deteriorating. Two weeks ago at the one in-person visit they’re allowed per week with her, they said they noticed marks on her stomach that were worrying enough that they called them to the attention of Justina’s caretakers, who took her to the emergency room the next day.
Jennifer Pelletier, Justina’s sister, said in the most recent visit, Justina’s legs were more swollen and she lost feeling in her feet.
Watch Jennifer Pelletier’s assessment of her sister’s physical state, which she called “scary,” in WTIC-TV’s report:
On Monday, the Pelletiers and their lawyers filed a contempt of court motion against DCF.
“A child’s health and welfare are hanging in the balance. We cannot continue to withhold treatment from this young girl,” Staver said.
“DCF has abused its authority. DCF had no right to come between Justina and medical care,” Staver continued, noting that DCF said it would not bring Justina to Tufts until after Tuesday’s decision.
DCF said in a statement that an agreement was reached with Justina’s parents regarding her appointments at Tufts and it is “pleased” that “Justina’s care can move forward.”
This post has been updated to include additional information.