ProPublica, April 6, 2017
Joaquin Sapien

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A federal judge in Brooklyn has accused state officials of secretly trying to subvert a landmark court order to improve care for thousands of mentally ill residents of New York City.

Three years ago, U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis ended a prolonged lawsuit against New York state by ordering the Department of Health to begin moving as many as 4,000 mentally ill residents housed in group homes to less restrictive environments where they could live more independently. As part of his order, the judge had laid out a timetable for the state to meet its obligations to men and women who had long lived in homes marked by neglect and abuse.

But at a hearing last month, Garaufis angrily charged that officials with the Department of Health appeared to have hatched a plan with the operators of the troubled group homes to get out from under his court order.

“There’s some sort of a deal,” Garaufis said. “That’s how it appears. And we’re going to find out exactly what the deal is, because if there is a deal, I would consider it a fraud on the court.”

A spokesman for the Department of Health said there was no secret plan, and that the state remained committed to meeting its obligations under the court order. A spokesman for the attorney general’s office, which has represented the state in the litigation for more than a decade, denied its lawyers were complicit in any effort to subvert the court order. The attorney general’s office has in recent weeks sought to distance itself from the Department of Health. [...]

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