Lawsuit against judge over child's removal can go forward

DETROIT (WXYZ) - A federal judge has ruled that a couple's lawsuit against a Wayne County judge can go forward.

They accuse family court Judge Judy Hartsfield of improperly having their son removed from their custody, relying on pre-signed child-removal orders filled out by a clerk.

"It was an unbelievable nightmare. Far worse than the death of my first child," said mother Claire Zimmeran.

Her husband, a professor at the University of Michigan, mistakenly gave their then 7-year old son Mike's Hard Lemonade, which contains alcohol, at a Detroit Tigers game.  A security guard complained, and the boy ended up in foster care for three days and was then turned over to his mother.

"I felt totally helpless, I felt desperate," Zimmerman said.

The couple contacted the American Civil Liberties Union, which sued the Department of Human Services and Wayne County Family Court Judge Judy Hartsfield.

"We found out that these sorts of things happen a lot, not to upper middle class professors, but to people in Detroit who do not have the resources," said ACLU of Michigan Legal Director Michael Steinberg. " And rather than the kids being taken away for a couple of days, they're taken away for a couple of months"

Steinberg says Judge Hartsfield violated the family's rights by failing to have a hearing to determine if the Zimmerman's son was in ever danger. Instead, he says Judge Hartsfield gave a clerk pre-signed removal order  to be filled out after hours, based solely on police allegations.

"To think that a judge would pre-sign an order and give police carte blanche to take away kids whenever they want, without even reviewing the allegations, is not only  unconstitutional, it's unfathomable," Steinberg said.

This week, U.S. District Judge Avern Cohn ruled that the couple's lawsuit can go forward against Judge Hartsfield, who had claimed judicial immunity. But Cohn reasoned that Hartsfield was not acting as a judge when providing pre-signed orders, but an administrator.

Judge Cohn did dismiss the case against the department of human services supervisors who were relying on the judge's orders.

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