Email Deletion Sparks Outrage
The state health department’s top lawyer, John Smith, announced his retirement on Monday, effective immediately. Smith was one of the defendants in a class action lawsuit filed by children in the state’s foster care system, who alleged that they were often housed in hotels, shelters, institutions or out-of-state and were subject to abuse and neglect.
The plaintiffs’ attorneys had requested emails from Smith and six other former health department officials, including former Secretary Bill Crouch and former Commissioner of the Bureau for Children and Families Linda Watts. However, they were informed in October that the emails they sought no longer existed.
According to the health department, the emails were deleted by the state Office of Technology after the officials left their positions, as per the standard protocol. The health department claimed that it had requested the Office of Technology to preserve the emails due to the pending litigation, but the request was not followed.
The plaintiffs’ attorneys accused the health department of deliberately destroying evidence and violating a court order. They filed a motion for sanctions against the health department, asking the judge to hold the defendants in contempt and impose monetary penalties.
Smith Denies Wrongdoing
Smith, who had served as the health department’s general counsel since 2019, denied any wrongdoing in his retirement letter. He said that he had no knowledge of the email deletion and that he had cooperated fully with the discovery process.
He also said that he was proud of his work at the health department and that he had always acted in the best interest of the state and its citizens. He thanked his colleagues and staff for their support and wished them well.
Smith’s retirement came as a surprise to many, as he had been a prominent figure in the health department and had handled several high-profile cases. He had also been praised by Crouch, who resigned in September, for his legal expertise and leadership.
The lawsuit against the health department, which was filed in 2019 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia, is still ongoing. The plaintiffs are seeking reforms in the foster care system, such as reducing caseloads, increasing foster care payments, providing more services and support, and ensuring safety and stability for the children.
The health department has argued that it has made significant improvements in the foster care system, such as hiring more staff, expanding foster care capacity, implementing quality assurance measures, and collaborating with stakeholders. It has also said that it is committed to complying with the court’s orders and resolving the lawsuit.
The judge has not yet ruled on the motion for sanctions or set a trial date for the lawsuit. The parties are expected to continue the discovery process and mediation efforts in the meantime.