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Legal Fees to Soar Above $1M as San Bernardino County’s Foster Care System Faces Class-Action Lawsuit

San Bernardino, California – The foster care system in San Bernardino County is under fire as a proposed class-action lawsuit unfolds. Legal fees have now surpassed $1 million, reflecting the intense scrutiny and allegations of mishandling child welfare cases within the system.

The San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors is expected to vote on allocating additional funds for legal services related to the ongoing lawsuit. The proposed increase in funding aims to ensure specialized legal representation to defend The San Bernardino County Department of Children and Family Services against the accusations of negligence and failure to protect vulnerable children.

The class-action lawsuit, titled Gary G., et al. v. Gavin Newsom, et al (referred to as the Gary G. lawsuit), was served to the County on May 30, 2023. The proposed class action lawsuit alleges instances of abuse, neglect, and inadequate supervision within the county’s foster care system. The complaint challenges policies and procedures governing the care of foster children in the county.

The suit was filed against the California Department of Social Services, CDSS Director Kim Johnson, Gov. Gavin Newsom, San Bernardino County, the county Board of Supervisors and Department of Children and Family Services and CFS Director Jeany Zepeda.

Miller Barondess, LLP was selected by the Office of County Counsel to handle the complexity of this litigation. Their specialized expertise will be brought to the case to represent the county in defending against the claims made in the lawsuit.

To date, two Purchase Orders have been approved for the legal services provided by Miller Barondess, LLP. The first Purchase Order, No. 4100304179, was approved by the Purchasing Department on June 9, 2023, for a total amount of $120,000. The second Purchase Order, No. 4100313693, was authorized on August 22, 2023, for $200,000, leaving approximately $46,000 remaining.

The fees in this matter through the end of the fiscal year are expected to be up to $750,000 requiring Board approval to increase the Purchase Order accordingly.

With this information, there is a request to modify Purchase Order No. 4100313693 with Miller Barondess, LLP, aiming to increase the amount by $750,000, to a not-to-exceed amount of $950,000. This amendment will raise the combined Purchase Orders beyond one million dollars.

The lawsuit was initiated on May 25th in a federal court in California. This legal action was filed by A Better Childhood, a national nonprofit advocacy organization. The suit involves 11 plaintiffs, aged between 15 months to 15 years, representing a potential class of approximately 5,800 children.

The lawsuit exposes systemic issues within the foster care system, such as negligence, inadequate vetting of foster parents, lack of proper monitoring, and failure to prioritize case planning. Concerns have also been raised about emergency placements, high caseloads for caseworkers, and insufficient health and dental assessments for foster children.

“Workers in San Bernardino County can’t possibly protect these children because of their high caseloads, no matter how hard they might try,” said Marcia Robinson Lowry, director of A Better Childhood, the national nonprofit advocacy group that filed the suit. “This is an ingrained system that ignores the needs of these children, and far too many children are suffering grievously because of it. California should be doing far better for its most vulnerable children. Neither the state nor the county is stepping in to help these kids and reform is long overdue.”

Through seeking declaratory and injunctive relief, the plaintiffs aim to bring about necessary reforms and ensure the protection, oversight, and services that foster children in San Bernardino County deserve. The lawsuit underscores the defendants’ alleged failure in addressing these deficiencies within the Child and Family Services, as required by law.

“We are pleased to assist A Better Childhood in filing this action so that the county will be required to take actual steps to fix the system,” added Polly Towill, a Sheppard Mullin partner who is leading the firm’s pro bono effort in the lawsuit.

A Better Childhood and Sheppard Mullin worked for eight months to collect the necessary information for the lawsuit and prepare the case for the court, which included speaking with hundreds of people and reviewing all available information and reports.

The outcome of this class-action lawsuit will have significant implications for the future of child welfare, not just in San Bernardino County, but beyond. It highlights the urgent need for comprehensive reform and the protection of the rights of vulnerable children within the foster care system.

The request to increase the Purchase Order will go in front of the Board on December 5, 2023 and is expected to pass.

To access a copy of the filed complaint, you can refer to this link: Gary G. v. Newsom.

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