A Massachusetts judge ruled Tuesday that the Connecticut teen in the middle of a contentious custody battle between her parents and the state will remain in the custody of the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families.
The Boston Globe reported that Suffolk County juvenile court Judge Joseph Johnson granted “permanent” custody to the state DCF, leaving it up to the agency to decide if and when 15-year-old Justina Pelletier is returned to her parents’ custody. This decision was in response to a motion filed by Lou and Linda Pelletier, Justina’s parents, and her court-appointed lawyer for a “conditional custody” plan. Up until this point, DCF only had temporary custody of Justina.
Justina Pelletier with her parents, Linda and Lou.  Justina has been in the custody of the state of Massachusetts since last year. (Image source: Facebook)
Justina Pelletier with her parents, Linda and Lou. Justina has been in the custody of the state of Massachusetts since last year. (Image source: Facebook)
Mat Staver, attorney and founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, told TheBlaze that as he understands the order, filed Tuesday afternoon, the Department of Children and Families will retain custody of Justina for now. Another hearing is scheduled for May 25.
“This is just completely unacceptable. The family asked us to pursue any other opportunities and appeals,” Staver said. “The family is beyond fed-up.”
In response to the Boston Globe’s report that the state will retain “permanent” custody, Staver said, “there’s no way they could have done that.”
“I’ll have to look into that more, but I can’t imagine this is the case in this situation,” he said.
Staver’s own motion to be formally admitted onto the case as an attorney for Lou and Linda Pelletier was denied by the judge.
“It is a complete outrage that Massachusetts DCF has prevented Justina from returning to the loving arms of her family. By refusing to grant the Pelletiers custody, Judge Johnston is assuring that the mistreatment and abuse of Justina will continue,” the family’s spokesman Rev. Patrick Mahoney said in an emailed statement. “After talking with the Pelletier family a few moments ago, they are crushed and heartbroken to see their daughter violated like this. They are rightfully worried for her safety.”
Lou and Linda Pelletier have been fighting to regain custody of their daughter after allegations of medical child abuse 14 months ago.
Justina was diagnosed with mitochondrial disease several years ago at Tufts Medical Center and put on a treatment plan to alleviate some of her symptoms. When her parents took her to Boston Children’s Hospital last year for complications with the flu, doctors there said she had somatoform disorder, a psychiatric disorder, instead.
After the Pelletiers disagreed with Boston Children’s treatment plan and tried to take her back to Tufts, they were accused of medical child abuse. DCF took custody of the teen on Feb. 13, 2014.
Court decisions in the Pelletier case were delayed several times in the last year, with the most movement coming in the first three months of 2014.
Lou Pelletier, Justina's father, spoke briefly before Monday's hearing. (Image source: Liz Klimas/TheBlaze)
Lou Pelletier, Justina’s father, spoke briefly before last week’s hearing that ended in the judge putting off his decision. (Image source: Liz Klimas/TheBlaze)
Keith Mason, president of Personhood USA, which is a part of the Free Justina coalition, said with each delay it seems like Justina is “being treated worse than a piece of property.”
The family also contends that Justina has not been seen by any physicians at Tufts Medical Center, which is now leading her medical team that includes physicians from other hospitals as well, after Johnson put Tufts in charge of her medical care earlier this month.
The Pelletiers say their daughter’s health is deteriorating. Two weeks ago at the one in-person visit they’re allowed per week with her, they said they noticed marks on her stomach that were worrying enough that they called them to the attention of Justina’s caretakers, who took her to the emergency room the next day.
Jennifer Pelletier, Justina’s sister, said in the most recent visit, Justina’s legs were more swollen and she lost feeling in her feet.
Watch Jennifer Pelletier’s assessment of her sister’s physical state, which she called “scary,” in WTIC-TV’s report:
On Monday, the Pelletiers and their lawyers filed a contempt of court motion against DCF.
“A child’s health and welfare are hanging in the balance. We cannot continue to withhold treatment from this young girl,” Staver said.
“DCF has abused its authority. DCF had no right to come between Justina and medical care,” Staver continued, noting that DCF said it would not bring Justina to Tufts until after Tuesday’s decision.
This post has been updated to include additional information.