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Hard Lemonade Judge Sued

November 30, 2013 permalink

In April 2008 father Christopher Ratte attended a Detroit Tigers game where he bought his seven-year-old son Leo a bottle of Mike's Hard Lemonade. He did not know that it contained alcohol. A security guard noticed and had the boy sent to a hospital. There Michigan child protective services seized the boy on authority of an order signed by judge Judy A Hartsfield. She had signed a number of orders in blank with instructions to child protectors to fill in the names and date as the need arose. Lawyers for the Ratte family have successfully argued that this turned Hartsfield from a judge into an administrator, waiving her judicial immunity. Link to earlier story. Two years ago, the same community was found to be signing judicial child removal orders with a rubber stamp.



Family can sue in child removal case involving Mike's Hard Lemonade, judge rules

Christopher Ratte
Having just bought a bottle of Mike's Hard Lemonade to check out the labeling, Christopher Ratte of Ann Arbor returned to Comerica Park on Thursday April 24, 2008 roughly two weeks after his son Leo Ratte drank more than 3/4's of a bottle of Mikes Hard Lemonade. A federal judge has ruled that the Ratte family can proceed with a lawsuit against a judge who placed Leo in foster care after his father mistakenly gave him the alcoholic beverage.
Eric Seals/Detroit Free Press

An Ann Arbor family can proceed with a lawsuit against a judge who placed their 7-year-old son in foster care after his father mistakenly gave him Mike’s Hard Lemonade at a Detroit Tigers game, a federal judge ruled today.

According to the lawsuit, Wayne County Family Court Judge Judy A. Hartsfield took the boy away from his parents without determining that the child was in danger, but rather had a practice of providing presigned child-removal orders for the on-duty desk clerk to be filled out after hours based on police allegations.

In allowing the case to proceed, U.S. District Judge Avern Cohn ruled that if the allegations are true, the practice of presigning orders violated the parent and child’s fundamental right to family integrity and the “clearly established” rights of parents to a notice and a hearing before the removal of their child, barring an emergency situation.

Cohn also ruled that Hartsfield is not entitled to judicial immunity because in presigning the orders, she was acting as an administrator, not a judge.

The lawsuit stems from an April 2008 incident in which 7-year-old Leo Ratté attended a Detroit Tigers game with his father, Christopher Ratté. Ratte said he accidentally purchased what he thought was lemonade from a stand advertising “Mike’s Lemonade,” and, not knowing that it contained alcohol, gave it to his son. A security guard saw the boy with the beverage and contacted police.

Leo was removed from the home and released into his mother’s custody several days after the incident.

Source: Detroit Free Press

Addendum: A federal court has refused to dismiss the claim against judge Judy Hartsfield.

In an aside, mother Claire Zimmeran says that the abduction of her son by CPS was an unbelievable nightmare, far worse than the death of her first child. This confirms other stories collected by fixcas from a tiny group of unfortunate mothers who have had both experiences.



Lawsuit against judge over child's removal can go forward

DETROIT (WXYZ) - A federal judge has ruled that a couple’s lawsuit against a Wayne County judge can go forward.

They accuse family court Judge Judy Hartsfield of improperly having their son removed from their custody, relying on pre-signed child-removal orders filled out by a clerk.

“It was an unbelievable nightmare. Far worse than the death of my first child," said mother Claire Zimmeran.

Her husband, a professor at the University of Michigan, mistakenly gave their then 7-year old son Mike’s Hard Lemonade, which contains alcohol, at a Detroit Tigers game. A security guard complained, and the boy ended up in foster care for three days and was then turned over to his mother.

“I felt totally helpless, I felt desperate," Zimmerman said.

The couple contacted the American Civil Liberties Union, which sued the Department of Human Services and Wayne County Family Court Judge Judy Hartsfield.

"We found out that these sorts of things happen a lot, not to upper middle class professors, but to people in Detroit who do not have the resources," said ACLU of Michigan Legal Director Michael Steinberg. " And rather than the kids being taken away for a couple of days, they’re taken away for a couple of months"

Steinberg says Judge Hartsfield violated the family’s rights by failing to have a hearing to determine if the Zimmerman's son was in ever danger. Instead, he says Judge Hartsfield gave a clerk pre-signed removal order to be filled out after hours, based solely on police allegations.

"To think that a judge would pre-sign an order and give police carte blanche to take away kids whenever they want, without even reviewing the allegations, is not only unconstitutional, it’s unfathomable," Steinberg said.

This week, U.S. District Judge Avern Cohn ruled that the couple’s lawsuit can go forward against Judge Hartsfield, who had claimed judicial immunity. But Cohn reasoned that Hartsfield was not acting as a judge when providing pre-signed orders, but an administrator.

Judge Cohn did dismiss the case against the department of human services supervisors who were relying on the judge’s orders.

Source: WXYZ-TV

Addendum: Settled privately.



Judge settles lawsuit in Comerica Park Hard Lemonade case involving 7-year-old

A Wayne County judge has settled a lawsuit filed by a couple whose son was temporarily removed from their custody after he was mistakenly given alcohol at a Detroit Tigers game.

The case was closed Tuesday in a federal court filing. Attorneys for the parents and Judge Judy Hartsfield say settlement details are confidential.

Leo Ratte was 7 years old in 2008 when his father mistakenly gave him Mike's Hard Lemonade at Comerica Park. University of Michigan professor Christopher Ratte says he didn't know the beverage had alcohol.

Police took steps to put Leo into protective custody for several days. Leo's parents sued the judge, claiming their rights were violated by Hartsfield's practice of signing blank forms and leaving them to be filled in by authorities to remove children.

Source: Detroit Free Press