Decision on foster child is basis of planned suit Saylor files writ of summons, complaint will follow later
SUNBURY - A ruling by Northumberland County Judge Charles H. Saylor involving a foster child and Mennonite family reportedly is at the center of a lawsuit the judge plans to file against Michael Robinson, solicitor for county Children and Youth Services; Cathy Gemberling, director of social services, and Cheryl Humes, a Lewisburg attorney and court-appointed guardian for juvenile court cases.
Details concerning the ruling were obtained Friday by The News-Item, but Saylor declined to explain what Robinson, Gemberling and Humes did to warrant the impending lawsuit. The judge recently issued a writ of summons against the trio, which indicates a suit will be filed.
The judge's allegations against the officials will be revealed in the suit, but the judge said Friday he's not sure when the complaint will be filed.
Saylor was reassigned from all Children and Youth cases in January. It came on the directive of President Judge Robert B. Sacavage, a decision Saylor said at the time that he respected and was "probably best for a brief period of time."
No public explanation has been given as to why Saylor was removed from cases dealing with Children and Youth, but according to an appeal filed Aug. 6 by Humes to the state Superior Court, the matter reportedly relates to a ruling made by Saylor involving a foster child who suffered second-degree burns while in the care of a foster family who are Mennonites. According to the appeal, the child was not taken for medical treatment by his foster family until almost a week after suffering the burns.
Saylor ruled that the child shouldn't be placed in an Old Order Mennonite home. Humes appealed the decision, arguing that Saylor was biased against Mennonite religious and cultural practices.
The Superior Court upheld Saylor's court order,
issued Dec. 15, 2011, that required the 4 1/2-year-old female foster child to be removed from the Mennonite home and placed in the care of her stepgrandparents following complaints by the girl's biological mother that her daughter had not received immediate medical care after suffering accidental second-degree burns while in foster care.
The reassignment of the cases came one month after Judy Jones, director of the Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) office, as well as a part-time case manager were forced out of the county courthouse by the county commissioners.
The judge blamed Robinson for CASA's removal, saying the attorney did so in retaliation for an unfavorable outcome on a prior court ruling he made.
Gary Steffen, chief clerk, denied Saylor's accusations that the move was political, referring to "unsolicited reports and complaints concerning the interaction of county agencies" with Saylor and the involvement of "investigative agencies" in the matter.
At the time of the commissioners' decision, Saylor issued a press release blaming the Children and Youth solicitor "and his cohort, a recently appointed guardian." He didn't name names, but the positions he referred to are held by Robinson and Humes, respectively.
Gemberling is a county employee. Robinson and Humes are contracted with the county and appointed by county commissioners.
Under Pennsylvania law, complaints about judges filed before the judicial conduct board are sealed. The judge doesn't even learn who complained about him unless the board finds evidence that suggests a complete investigation is needed. The confidentiality is intended to guarantee that whistleblowers will not be subjected to retaliation by judges they have complained about.
The national CASA program that provides volunteer advocates for neglected and abused children in the court system was established three years ago in the county by Saylor, who handles custody cases.
The program was launched with a grant from Parent to Parent Connections and has been funded with private donations and contributions from the national CASA organization and Northumberland County Bar Association.