CPS Database Glitch Causing Headaches

In June, the Arizona Department of Economic Security (“DES”) discovered a glitch in the computer program that Child Protective Services (“CPS”) uses to disclose records and information about pending cases and investigations.

Statistically, the scope of the glitch is staggering.  According to one Arizona Republic report, DES sent out over 30,000 notices to attorneys, parents, law-enforcement, and media members.  Those notices pertain to 11,336 separate records requests since August 2010, but the notices are not specific as to the nature of records which were erroneously withheld.  DES officials estimate that about two-thirds of the requested records were erroneously withheld.

Although some of the withheld records are redundant with the information which was disclosed, DES has issued no guidelines as to what type of information was not disclosed.  DES has declared that their legal obligations to disclose the glitch have been met, and that it is now up to attorneys to follow up on the notices they have received and determine whether a request for more information from DES is appropriate.  Some attorneys have received hundreds of notices, so the amount of work necessary to re-open and investigate each case is burdensome, at best.

DES insists that the most important cases are those which recently concluded or are currently pending (over 8,500 child-dependency cases are currently pending in county courts).  Limitations on the timeliness of challenges to these decisions, particularly in finalized adoption cases, dramatically increase the importance of quick responses by attorneys and families who may not have received important disclosures while their cases were pending.

Furthermore, many people who sorted out their claims in Family Court were not represented by attorneys – it is even more difficult for these individuals to learn whether the withheld records would have made a significant difference in the outcomes of their cases.

This disclosure glitch is highly reminiscent of the so-called “Arizona DUI Data Dump Fiasco” of the late-1990s, in which undisclosed changes to the Department of Public Safety’s “Intoxilyzer 5000” machine’s computer databases led to five years of critical calibration and other information being withheld from DUI defendants and their attorneys.  The “Data Dump” led to years of litigation and thousands of successful petitions to suppress breath tests on the basis that the State had withheld or destroyed evidence that might have proved exculpatory to defendants.

Perhaps the most troubling fact about the CPS glitch is that no one is certain whether the withheld information would have significantly impacted cases.  Some of the information was likely no different than what was contained in the records which were properly disclosed, but many other records were never revealed to attorneys representing families, defendants, and other claimants in CPS-related cases.

Going forward, DES officials expect that this glitch will require a tremendous amount of resources as more and more attorneys request the disclosure of wrongly withheld records.  For anyone whose case was resolved over the course of the past two years, it is wise to contact an attorney who might investigate further.  Time is of the essence, and only a case-by-case examination of withheld records will reveal if the CPS glitch materially affected your outcome.

To read the Arizona Republic’s report on the CPS database glitch, click the following link: http://www.azcentral.com/news/articles/20121023cps-big-glitch-debate-over-obligations-continues.html?nclick_check=1