By Steven Allen Adams, The Parkersburg News and Sentinel
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Attorneys for the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources admitted to deleting the emails of several prominent former department officials being sought in a class action lawsuit over the state’s foster care system.
In a court filing Friday, attorneys for DHHR filed their opposition to an Oct. 25 motion by attorneys representing children in the state’s foster care system seeking sanctions against DHHR over the deletion of emails.
The attorneys were seeking emails for seven named defendants, including former DHHR Cabinet Secretary Bill Crouch and former Commissioner of DHHR’s Bureau for Children and Families Linda Watts. The emails being sought were either sent or received after September 2020, but DHHR confirmed that three years worth of emails were deleted.
“(DHRR) and other defendants deeply regret — and apologize to plaintiffs and the court — that certain electronically stored information (ESI) potentially relevant to this litigation was not preserved despite Defendants’ reasonable efforts to do so,” wrote attorney Philip Peisch with the Brown and Peisch law firm in Washington, D.C., and Steven Compton with the West Virginia Attorney General’s Office.
The class action lawsuit, filed in 2019 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia, alleges foster children in the state are often housed either in hotels, shelters, institutions or out of state and are subject to abuse and neglect. Attorneys representing the foster children include Shaffer and Shaffer law firm, A Better Childhood and Disability Rights West Virginia.