Sunday, July 13, 2008

Infighting can show how poorly a state is run

Monitor Of DCF Sues Ex-Officials Over Own Case

By JON LENDER | Courant Staff Writer
July 13, 2008


For two years, the [Connecticut] Department of Children and Families has operated under a bizarre governmental quirk: Its compliance with a federal court order has been policed by an official fired by the DCF in 2006 for having sex in the 1980s with a woman he met as a social worker.

Last week, the situation turned even messier.

Raymond Mancuso — whom the state pays $150,000 a year as the U.S. District Court-appointed federal "monitor" of DCF's child-protection practices — filed a federal lawsuit last week against present and former state officials over his 2006 firing.

Mancuso's lawsuit bares previously unpublished allegations about his relationship 23 years ago. Among them are claims by the woman, referred to as "Jane Doe," that he coerced her into sex and installed video equipment to monitor her at home.

His lawyer denied those allegations and cited official reports of her mental illness, years after the one-time sexual encounter that occurred when the two were single and in their 20s.

"Two mental health professionals opined that Doe has been likely fabricating allegations about Mancuso," his attorney, Thomas G. Moukawsher, said in the lawsuit.

The lawsuit has brought renewed calls for Mancuso's removal as monitor, based on the claim that it's a conflict of interest for him to oversee the agency that fired him — and whose former officials he now is suing.

In interviews with The Courant on Friday, Attorney General Richard Blumenthal and State Child Advocate Jeanne Milstein reaffirmed a written request they made two years ago for Senior U.S. District Judge Alan H. Nevas to oust Mancuso as monitor.

Nevas did not return a call from The Courant.

Mancuso had risen within the department ranks since his 1980s job as a case worker; he was installed in 2005 as the federal court monitor. The monitor evaluates and files periodic reports on DCF's compliance with standards to which the department agreed in a consent decree to settle a lawsuit on behalf of abused and neglected children.

Although Mancuso was fired as a state DCF official in July 2006, Nevas left him in the federal monitor's job.

Sources said that Nevas had been awaiting the outcome of Mancuso's administrative appeal of his firing. But that has stretched out for two years and appears far from over.

"The point I made when we asked for his removal in 2006 was that his termination by the DCF created a conflict of interest — insofar as he was overseeing as court monitor the very agency that terminated him," Blumenthal said.

He added that although "anyone has a right to file a lawsuit," Mancuso's suit against former DCF officials "could heighten the appearance of conflicting interests."

Moukawsher said Blumenthal and Milstein "should remember that, in America, to be accused of something is not to be convicted of something. While the wheels of justice turn slowly, they still turn."

Mancuso's lawsuit names three defendants: former DCF Commissioner Darlene Dunbar, who fired him in 2006; her predecessor, Kristine Ragaglia, now Kristine Williams after a divorce; and Frederick Heisler, a state labor relations officer who rejected the grievance Mancuso filed over the firing.

Mancuso seeks unspecified damages, a declaration that his firing was illegal and the restoration of lost pension benefits. He wants a judge to bar Heisler from prosecuting the case for the firing at the next administrative appeal level: the Employees' Review Board.

Dunbar, the former DCF commissioner, also had asked Nevas to dump Mancuso as court monitor in 2006. The department's current commissioner, Susan Hamilton, did not comment Friday.

Mancuso's lawsuit claims that the sexual relationship between him and "Jane Doe" did not violate departmental ethics rules.

They both lived in Enfield in the mid-1980s when he went to her home as a DCF social worker to investigate if she was neglecting her child. He determined she wasn't and considered the case closed, the suit says. Their friendship developed several months later when they bumped into each other in town, and "one day they had a physical encounter," the suit says.

His supervisor at the time investigated the friendship after a local social-work volunteer questioned it. Jane Doe "refused to confirm" allegations of an improper relationship, the supervisor, Thomas P. Gilman, wrote at the time, and Mancuso denied wrongdoing. "Please be advised that my inquiry is finished resulting in your complete exoneration," Gilman wrote, according to the suit.

DCF rules say that agency personnel must not engage in close relationships with clients. Because the DCF did not intervene after Mancuso visited and evaluated Jane Doe's situation, she was never a client, Moukawsher said.

Mancuso "heard nothing of the issue again for over 20 years," the suit says. Then, in December 2005, not long after he had become court monitor, Mancuso was informed that the old relationship had arisen again because of a complaint by an anonymous "whistle-blower." Blumenthal and Milstein were investigating the complaint, and after they contacted DCF, Dunbar launched her own internal inquiry.

As the new DCF probe progressed, the suit says, "Mancuso was shocked" to learn that back in 1997, then-commissioner Ragaglia also had investigated a whistle-blower complaint about the relationship but never told him.

He received a 1997 document from Dunbar's office showing that a decade after their relationship, "sadly, Doe now claimed a very different version of the events" — including that he planted "video cameras in her home" and threatened that a politically powerful relative would "take her child away if she did not cooperate," the suit says.

In May 2006, Blumenthal and Ragaglia told Nevas in a letter that during Dunbar's new DCF probe, "Mancuso acknowledged having had sexual relations on one occasion with a parent of [a] child who received services as a result of DCF intervention." They said it "calls into question his ability to continue as court monitor."

The DCF probe led to Mancuso's July 2006 dismissal from the state agency, but not the federal monitor's post.

Contact Jon Lender at jlender@courant.com.

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