Monday, March 9, 2009
Due Process - Part Four
My Due Process story continues... You can catch up by reading Part One here, Part Two here and Part Three here.
Besides my testimony, our portion of the due process case involved our expert’s report and two more witnesses. I couldn’t afford to bring the expert witness back for the actual hearing, but the hearing officer agreed to accept the report as testimony as long as the school’s attorney agreed. Since it would have looked really petty if the school’s attorney had objected (in my opinion), he did agree.
My next two witnesses were Ashley’s pediatrician, Dr. Gewanter, and her occupational therapist, Kari. Dr. Gewanter, himself a parent to a child with a disability, was also a very strong disability rights advocate. He was the first doctor who met Ashley when I adopted her, and he had followed her for many years. He knew what she was capable of, and he had watched her regress – the whole point of our due process case.
The school’s attorney did his best to discredit Dr. Gewanter, but he only ended up making himself look foolish (the school’s attorney, that is). Then it was time for Kari. Kari had been Ashley’s OT for many years, helping Ashley learn to eat by mouth and master activities of daily living. In addition, Kari had a background in working with people with vision impairments, a fact which led the hearing officer to designate her an expert witness also. But the most important feature of her testimony was the way her abiding belief in Ashley’s abilities and her profound disappointment when Ashley began to regress came through in her words. She was the most powerful witness we had. I think the school’s attorney realized the effect she had on the hearing officer, and wisely he decided to forgo cross examination.
Our case closed and the school began its parade of witnesses – but strangely, it wasn’t a parade. The school’s attorney seemed so sure of his case that he only brought two witnesses to the stand. The first was Ashley’s school principal, a very nice man, but someone who didn’t really have anything substantive to offer. The second was Ashley’s teacher, a woman would could speak as if she were an expert on the subject of deafblindness, but who under cross examination by my attorney would be shown to be lying.
But still the school’s attorney felt he had the win in the bag. It probably goes back to that statistic I shared early on about how school districts do win almost every due process case. This attorney had won everything to date, and he believed he would win this one also. He was so wrong….
It was time for closing arguments, and my attorney did a stellar job. The school’s attorney closed with a very short statement, again revealing his arrogance in my opinion. The hearing officer called the proceedings to a close, and everyone started to pack up to leave. We all shook hands, smiled, and played nicely one last time. The school’s attorney was the first to leave.
As I started to walk out with my attorney, the hearing officer shook my hand, looked directly into my eyes, and wished me the best for Ashley. It seemed a little strange at that time, but in retrospect, I think he was sharing a message with me.
The waiting for a decision began. My attorney told me that it often took 3-4 weeks for a decision. Ours was back in three days…..
The conclusion to this story will be next week - I PROMISE!