Tuesday, July 28, 1998 Slap: Huckabee, DHS haven't learned
Last modified at 11:47 a.m. on Tuesday, July 28, 1998
If the actions of the state's chief executive are any indication, it doesn't appear the Department of Human Services learned anything from the weekend jailing of one of its employees.
Circuit-Chancery Judge sentenced Sandi Doherty, area manager for the DHS Children and Family Services Division, to jail for two days for not following an order to have utilities connected at the home of a teen-ager in 1996.
When Ms. Doherty was released from the Faulkner County Detention Center, she was greeted by Gov. and Mrs. Mike Huckabee, his chief legal counsel and the director of the Children and Family Services Division.
Gov. Huckabee said he made the drive to Conway -- and took Ms. Doherty out to eat -- to show his support for a state employee he feels was wrongly jailed.
What he also showed was a willingness to give a slap in the face to the judicial system, which had jailed her in the first place.
One reason Ms. Doherty wound up in jail was because DHS indicated it did not have to do what a judge ordered if it felt the order was outside department policy -- even though the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled, as did Judge Baker, that connecting the utilities was very much within policy for DHS.
By defying this order, Ms. Doherty left a 16-year-old girl and her mother in a home without utilities for 53 days in October and November. There were other efforts made to assist the family, including offering to place the girl in a foster home, although that would have cost the department more than just having the utilities turned on.
Gov. Huckabee was quick to come to the defense of a state employee who he maintains was only following department rules. Would it have not been just as admirable (if not more so) to come to the defense two years ago of a mother and daughter who were living in a house with no utilities?
Judge Baker jailed Ms. Doherty to show DHS it cannot choose to summarily ignore a court order. But if the department has the support of the governor when situations such as this arise -- even to the extent that Gov. Huckabee investigated the possibilities of executive clemency to keep Ms. Doherty out of jail -- how is anything going to be learned?
It's fine if the governor came to meet Ms. Doherty to console her after her incarceration. It's not fine if he did it to thumb his nose at the judicial system.
What this shows the courts and others is the governor and DHS intend to hide behind existing policy regardless of what orders come from a judge. It shows they do not believe they have to obey a court order with which they do not agree.
It shows they think they are above anyone else who appears in court.
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