Saylor drops intention to file suit in Children and Youth case
SUNBURY - Northumberland County Judge Charles Saylor has decided not to pursue his previous intention to file a civil lawsuit against three individuals relating to a case involving a foster child and Mennonite family because of his heavy caseload and responsibility to address legal matters in a timely fashion.
In December, the judge filed a writ of summons 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. A writ of summons, which initiates an action, is often followed by a lawsuit or complaint, but neither was filed by the judge.
In his praecipe for discontinuance filed Tuesday in the Court of Common Pleas, Saylor said he is unable to devote the attention required to pursue the litigation against the three defendants because it would distract from fulfilling his extensive judicial duties.
Saylor said his present judicial caseload, responsibilities as a judge to timely address all of his assigned matters, as well as his involvement on the state level to improve the outcomes of foster youth involved in the court system take up all his available time to pursue legal action.
The judge cites his extensive judicial duties in his praecipe for discontinuance.
In his filing, Saylor states, "This case would involve the pre-complaint discovery and the taking of numerous, extensive dispositions. I will remain protective of children's best interests, free of attempts at political influence."
The judge reserved comment about the issue when contacted Friday afternoon, noting his reasons for discontinuing any legal action are spelled out in the praecipe.
Robinson declined comment Friday. Attempts to reach Gemberling and Humes on Friday afternoon were unsuccessful.
Saylor was reassigned from all Children and Youth cases in January 2012. 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.