AUSTIN — Texas has spent more than $7 million fighting a class-action lawsuit over its troubled foster care system.
Since 2011, three state agencies have spent nearly $6.6 million in lawyers’ and other state staff members’ time and on travel, transcription services and other expenses related to the federal suit, according to data obtained by The Dallas Morning News under Texas’ open records law.
Additionally, the Department of Family and Protective Services has been forced to pay $650,000 for salary and travel expenses of the two experts appointed by the court to come up with a reform plan.
Last December, U.S. District Judge Janis Graham Jack declared Texas’ foster care system unconstitutionally flawed and ordered the independent overhaul. The lawsuit was filed in 2011 by the New York-based advocacy group Children’s Rights and multiple Texas law firms.
Some child advocates and lawyers who brought the suit on behalf of 12,000 children in long-term foster care find Texas’ resistance disheartening.
“We’d like to see state leaders quickly put the legal battles in the rearview mirror and focus on helping kids,” said Kate Murphy of Texans Care for Children.
Paul Yetter of Houston, who was the plaintiffs’ lead lawyer at trial, said, “Given that innocent children’s lives are at stake, the state should be focused on fixing its broken system, not spending millions to defend it.”
Spokesmen for Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton insist the legal costs were necessary. They say that only the state itself, free of judicial interference, can fix Texas’ foster care system, which state officials have acknowledged needs work.
Paxton spokesman Marc Rylander said that “if the plaintiffs complain about wasting resources on defending against its lawsuit, they should drop their lawsuit and stop using Texas children as hostages for their policy negotiation.'”
Judge Jack’s final order in the case could come in a few months and she could effectively order the state to spend tens of millions a year on new initiatives. Paxton appears all but certain to appeal the final order.