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Friday, May 26, 2000

Felix lawyers
disagree on contempt

By Crystal Kua


Plaintiffs' attorneys in a class-action lawsuit seeking to improve educational and mental health services for special-needs students apparently disagree over whether the state should be held in contempt of court for failing to abide by a federal court order.

While Shelby Anne Floyd and Eric Seitz agree that the state is not in compliance with the Felix consent decree, they differ on whether a federal judge should hold the state in civil contempt at a hearing Tuesday.

Floyd said she plans to argue to U.S. District Judge David Ezra that the state should be found in contempt for not meeting obligations under the consent decree.

"If it's noncompliance, it's contempt," Floyd said.

But Seitz, in a presentation yesterday, said he did not think that was the way to go.

Seitz left for the mainland yesterday and could not be reached for comment about a taped morning presentation to pediatricians at Kapiolani Hospital on the consent decree.

In answering a question about the case, Seitz was said he plans to tell Ezra of his position.

"I don't believe the state ought to be held in contempt or that the court ought to intervene in such a way that it's going to take away from the people who are now providing these services," Seitz said.

Seitz told the group of doctors that he realizes that his position will cause "some dismay" to some parents.

"I don't think we have to hold the state in contempt at this point to get from point A, where we are now, to point B, where we need to be, in the shortest period of time," Seitz said.

"The inquiry has to be, rather, What is it that we need to do to infuse into the system that currently now exists the resources and the capacity to deliver services at the level the consent decree describes?"

A federal lawsuit filed in 1993 for Jennifer Felix alleged the state is violating federal laws requiring adequate mental health, education and other services for special-needs children. The state signed a 1994 consent decree agreeing to changes.

The deadline for the state to be in compliance is June 30.

Seitz and Floyd were united in their position in March when they filed their contempt motion, citing the majority of schools not being in compliance with the consent decree.

Officials of the state departments of Health and Education are planning to argue against such a motion.

Floyd said that as far as she is concerned, nothing has changed her position on the matter.

"The judge has the power to continue to act in connection with the litigation beyond June 2000. If the state is found in contempt ... it gives the judge greater discretion. It's necessary," she said.

Floyd said she had heard about Seitz's remarks from someone else but had not yet talked with him about it.

Seitz told the doctors that holding the state in contempt could do more harm than good.

"It's of great concern that some people who are working 14-, 16-, 18-hour days to do the right things are going to throw up their hands saying, 'You know, I'm doing everything I can do, and the court is holding me in contempt, and I'll go take my expertise to some other state where it's easier to operate.'"

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