Family Issues

Kentucky Judges Pre-Signed Blank Legal Documents So That Child Services Could Take Custody of Kids on Nights and Weekends

"Children are being illegally taken from their home without judges' proper authority."


Kentucky's Cabinet for Health and Family Services—the state agency that provides child protective services—has a practice of obtaining blank emergency custody orders pre-signed by judges. Social workers then fill out the documents with the necessary information after they've been signed by a judge and then use them to take custody of children from parents who have come under investigation. Let me repeat that: no judge actually reviews these orders, or the evidence used to justify separating a family, before signing them.

This practice is a galling abuse of parents' rights and basic civil liberties. It only came to an end after an investigative report by WDRB-41 spotlighted the practice:

Previously, copies of the blank orders with signatures from Jefferson District Court judges were left at the Home of the Innocents on Market Street and filled in by cabinet workers – giving them the power to remove children without a judge reviewing the allegations written on the order or filling out other necessary documentation.

"The system that is currently set up allows for the social workers to call an on-call judge on the phone and then fill out the order themselves, a blank order with a judge's signature on it," attorney Karen Faulkner said in an interview before the March 15 policy change. "Children are being illegally taken from their home without judges' proper authority."

In some cases, attorneys and some judges claim cabinet workers have used blank copies of the pre-signed child removal orders to take kids from their parents, only later filling in the allegations and other items on the order. The judges and attorneys for the parents don't see the orders until a hearing three days after the child has been removed.

Defenders of the practice said it was necessary to address off-hours investigations. While family court judges deal with custody issues during the day, random district judges are assigned to consider these matters on nights and weekends. Social workers were apparently too lazy to visit these judges at their homes and were technologically incapable of using e-signatures, so it became common practice to have the judges pre-sign the documents.

The Blaze notes that Kentucky officials clearly abused this loophole, highlighting a case in which a social worker allegedly used a re-signed form to take custody of three kids. It had been the judge's understanding that only one of the kids would be removed from the home.

Separating children from their parents is one of the most traumatizing forms of coercion the state can exercise against a family. The social workers and judges highlighted by WDRB-41 used that power carelessly and to horrifying effect.

Related: "After a False Accusation, Police and Child Services Forced a Family Apart for 7 Months."

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  1. If this isn’t kidnapping, why isn’t it?

    1. If an abuse is systemic then it can’t be a crime. Don’t be weird about this.

    2. “If this isn’t kidnapping, why isn’t it?”

      Qualified immunity since it’s not clearly established by precedent that this is a violation of somebody’s rights?

      1. That’s for civil suits under the federal civil rights laws…but seriously, in practice these folks have immunized themselves against the risk of arrest and prosecution.

      2. This is one of those rare cases when federal criminal prosecution for violation of civil rights is warranted. (As far as immunity, judges enjoy absolute immunity from civil suit, not qualified immunity. But not from criminal prosecution.) It is also a fraud — the judges are being paid to review cases, not to sign blank warrants.

      3. Qualified immunity is qualified by good faith and acting within the law. I don’t see that as the case here.

    3. If this isn’t kidnapping, why isn’t it?

      Unless the doors were unlocked and open and nobody resisted when the police showed up to take the kids, it’s a giant heap of felonies committed in the process of kidnapping.

    4. Cause the State did it, and the State is magic.

    5. It’s kidnapping, but don’t expect the government’s lawyers to prosecute the government’s kidnappers.

      We need to make private prosecutions possible again.

  2. Wait, I thought separating children from their families was The Greatest Crime of All, or is that only at the border?

    1. Depends on which way the kiddies are headed.

    2. Wait, I thought separating children from their families was The Greatest Crime of All, or is that only at the border?

      The separation of these kids was fully documented and the line of sovereignty at their doorstep was duly ignored so your concern for these kids should be duly prioritized in line behind the others.

    3. Children are separated from parents every day across the country.
      Arrested parent in custody of a child.
      If another parent or adult willing to take temporary custody is not available Child Services steps in.

      It might be only a short period till another person capable and willing to assume custody is located.
      It can also drag on for a few days in many cases.

  3. Somewhere, far from human ears, 1,000 woodchippers are screaming for vengeance.


        1. Dear reason web designers:

          overflow-wrap: break-word;

  4. These judges were removed from the bench, right?

    I keed.

    1. I came here to cynically ask that very question. Sounds like cause for immediate termination to me (woodchipper optional).

      1. Woodchippers are never optional.

        1. There’s a long line waiting for the chippers. We may need to explore other options.

          1. There’s a lot more trash compacting trucks than woodchippers.

          2. Viva le France!

          3. “We’re going to need a bigger woodchipper!” — Roy Scheider

            1. “Frankly, what we really needed is more scrupulous judges.” – Randall Munroe

          4. Obviously we need more woodchipper-making factories.

      2. State judges, while they don’t server for life, still generally require impeachment by the state legislature, they can’t simply be fired.

        1. Voters can fire them in Kentucky, if Ballotpedia can be relied on.

          1. Only at scheduled elections.

        2. And the legislature is getting right on that, I assume.
          I wonder is there a way to discipline a judge for gross misbehavior short of that. What happens if a judge gets indicted?

          1. If I am certain of the facts, I would not mind doing jail time to protest the separation of children from their parents.

  5. There’s absolutely no reason the judges and social workers involved shouldn’t be in prison.

    1. The reason is they are on the team that holds the gaol keys.

  6. Can we pre-sign the execution orders for the judges and the “social workers”?
    (we can hold the trial during normal business hours)

    1. Sure. We can elect you to the bench later to make the oders legal.

      1. Good point. But I prefer to be appointed; elections are so arbitrary.

  7. The legal CPS system is so corrupt that Satan himself would condemn it.

    1. Satan would be judged a fit parent while CPS was going after the parents who let their children play outside.

      1. 😀

      2. Satan is very progressive.

  8. What the fuck?

    1. I know, right. This is one of those things that should be (IMO) in the national news headlines but is kind of shrugged off because it’s procedural and boring and CPS helps people and stuff?

  9. I have a friend with three children. He’s an avid socialist, and thinks the government should have nigh unlimited power. He always assumes, when I talk about these kinds of cases, that the parents simply deserved it.

    I’m seriously thinking of calling CPS on him, just to teach him what the consequences of his choices really are.

    1. If he’s indoctrinating his children with such dangerous ideas then you need to act now.

      1. I just laughed fucking ass off to this comment about acting now.

    2. On one hand that seems fairly obviously wrong. On the other hand, since he stands a large chance of being as proud as Parsons, you’d be doing him a great service. Put that way, I’m not sure what your reservation is.

    3. Two words: burner phone.

  10. In news reports such as these, or the not uncommon botched drug raids, I’ve noticed the judges are never actually named.
    When a SWAT team is authorized to raid a home, shoot dogs, and terrorize people, and the warrant used is obviously deficient, what happens to the judge that signed off on it?

    I suppose it’s more important for the state to violently rip a child away from a parent, then bother a $200,000 a year former prosecutor turned judge turned rubber stamp at home.

    1. In news reports such as these, or the not uncommon botched drug raids, I’ve noticed the judges are never actually named.

      Yes. I came here to have my faith restored in Reason as a magazine by reading names.

      The whole fucking point of issuing a warrant is to have a public record of authorization of police action. All of their names should be disclosed if they even had a chance of pre-signing one of these warrants. If a judge fully examined every case during the week or on his own time on weekends, every signature should be defensible.

  11. This clearly constitutes fraud on the court.

    1. But if the article is correct, the judges are doing the fraud-ing – so it should all be OK.

    2. This clearly constitutes fraud OF the court

  12. This falls just short of a writ of attainder, does it not?

    1. No, a writ of attainder is a legislative act (AKA a “bill of pains and penalties”).
      You may be thinking of a writs of assistance, one of two things the drafters of the 4th amendment wanted to stomp out with the warrant requirement, along with (closely related) general warrants. And yes, this seems rather close to the writs of assistance used by the crown in colonial America.

      1. sounds like a general warrant if it’s pre-signed

  13. Something about it being better for this judge to have a millstone hung around his neck and be tossed into the sea…

    1. Amen to that.

  14. Governments eventually and inevitably are expected to assume more responsibility. And just as inevitable, they cut corners to accomplish new objectives. The only remedy is harsh punishment of lawbreakers who are entrusted with public service. Civil servants need to prepare themselves to resign before breaking rules, regulations or laws. Easy peasy, until it isn’t.

  15. […] Click here to view original story: Kentucky Judges Pre-Signed Blank Legal Documents So That Child Se… […]

  16. One of the first laws of government operation is this:
    subsidise somethinh, you WILL get more of it.

    Fact is, every state and their child “protective” services gets huge monthly stipends for every child they seize and put into their foster care system. END that subsidy and watch the incentive to nab every kid they possibly can vanish. Further, remove the immunity these social workers of evil now “enjoy”….. when they are found to be operating outside the guidelines, “fudging” the reports and investigatioins, and taking three kids instead of the one they maybe COULD have, these workers face serious charges. What they often do is nothing less than kidnapping.. and, at least for a while, that was a capital offense. Doing that under colour of law ought be an even more serious offence.

    1. But the LP platform is against government-administered death penalty, and vigilante posses are also illegal. So I guess we’ll just have to watch helplessly hoping… either that or vote for the looter parties sponsoring the kidnappings. I still recall when LP platforms offered sensible alternatives…

  17. And the biggest problem is that, if you made the (anti)social workers fill out the whole form and get a judge’s signature beforehand, it would make no difference. Most judges wouldn’t read the form before signing, and there are no consequences for lying in filling out the form.

  18. […] “Kentucky social workers are failing to have courts properly scrutinize and approve the drastic step of taking some children from their homes, relying instead on blank removal orders with pre-signed judges’ signatures, which is illegal according to several attorneys and judges.” The practice, now ended following an investigation by local broadcaster WDRB, was rationalized by the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services as a way to speed things up on evenings and weekends when family court judges are not sitting, although on-call judges are supposed to be available during those times to review removal orders. The practice raises grave due process concerns, since it means that judges had not (and perhaps would not have) signed off on removal orders after individualized review, and if need be questioning, of the underlying allegations. It also permits allegations to be filled in after a child is taken, perhaps tailored to whatever household conditions were or were not discovered during the seizure. “In addition, cabinet workers have allegedly called judges after hours and told them about the need to remove one child from a home, but then used multiple copies of pre-signed emergency custody orders to take more than one juvenile.” [Jason Riley, WDRB via Robby Soave, Reason] […]

  19. Preprinted boilerplate ransom notes is government efficiency.

  20. […] Kentucky Judges Pre-Signed Blank Legal Documents So That Child Services Could Take Custody of Kids o… “Children are being illegally taken from their home without judges’ proper authority.” […]

  21. […] Critics of governmental abuses need to stop using neutral words like “taken” and call th…: […]

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