U.S. District Court Judge Joseph Tauro will hear motions in the landmark Ricci v. Okin case involving care for people with mental retardation in Massachusetts. The judge has scheduled a hearing, on Wednesday Nov. 10 at 10:30 a.m. in the Moakley Federal Court House. Families of residents who reside at DMR state facilities are seeking to block the Romney Administration’s efforts to close these homes, and also to ensure equal or better care for those who have moved to community settings, as required under Judge Tauro’s Final Order.
Plaintiffs in the original 1972 Ricci lawsuit filed a motion with Tauro in July to reopen the suspended case, citing "systematic violations" by the Commonwealth of the judge’s 1993 disengagement order. The lawsuit was originally brought against the Department of Mental Retardation to improve conditions in state facilities for the retarded, and to ensure equal or better care for those who could benefit from a community placement. Tauro, who had presided over the case for two decades, formally disengaged from his oversight of the DMR in 1993, citing substantial improvements in care in the facilities, and the development of an appropriate community system for those who could benefit.
"Judge Tauro’s hearing on November 10 will be an important stage in the battle to ensure that the Commonwealth continues to care for its most vulnerable citizens," said COFAR Executive Director Colleen Lutkevich. "It’s our chance to hold the Commonwealth directly accountable for the recent reversals of the tremendous progress that had been made throughout the state in care for those with mental retardation."
Tauro’s 1993 disengagement order required that members of the Ricci class action suit continue to receive a comprehensive level of treatment and services in both the state facilities and the community system. The final order also stipulated that any residents who moved out of state facilities must receive equal or better care elsewhere. The case raised standards and improved conditions for all citizens with mental retardation in Massachusetts.
In his July motion to reopen the case, plaintiff attorney Beryl Cohen cited the Romney administration’s planned closure of the six remaining state-operated facilities, together with unprecedented personnel reductions and budget cuts throughout the DMR system as "systematic violations" of Tauro’s disengagement order. At the Fernald Developmental Center in Waltham, the first facility which the administration has targeted for closure, budget and staffing cuts have brought about the return of some of the conditions that led to the original class action complaints, Cohen alleged, including insufficient staffing, lack of equipment, delayed maintenance, and repeated problems with infestation of vermin.
Cohen further alleged that the DMR has failed to provide additional funding needed to ensure that equal or better care would be provided to the 267 Fernald residents who would be transferred to other DMR-operated facilities and into the community system. Cohen’s motion to reopen the case was filed after three meetings with DMR in May and June did not resolve the issues raised by the plaintiffs. COFAR, a statewide advocacy organization that advocates for the most appropriate placement for people with mental retardation, including facilities, has filed an amicus brief in the case. COFAR supports the continuation of the DMR facilities as well as a range of community options for people with mental retardation.