'Huge ruling': Judge halts move of Murray Center residents

News-DemocratJuly 30, 2013 

A state lawmaker who is trying to keep open the Warren G. Murray Developmental Center in Centralia says residents are being tricked into moving from the center.

And the state's plans to close the center have hit another snag: A judge in Clinton County on Monday issued a temporary restraining order that says Murray Center residents who are wards of the state cannot be transferred to group homes or other facilities until additional hearings are conducted.

Circuit Judge Dennis Middendorff also appointed a temporary guardian for those residents.

State Rep. Charlie Meier, who is pushing to keep Murray Center open, said the appointment of a temporary guardian is significant. Meier said the action means the residents who are wards of the state are now under the guardianship of someone other than the state.

"This is a huge ruling, if we can get it to hold," said Meier, R-Okawville. "I don't know if this has ever happened before in the state of Illinois."

Middendorff's ruling follows a similar ruling, issued recently by a federal judge, that temporarily prohibits the state from transferring Murray Center residents who have private guardians. The federal judge's order is in effect while a lawsuit challenging the center's closure plays out in court.

The state already is in the process of moving residents out of Murray Center. Meier said some residents who are wards of the state were told they were "going to workshop," but never returned to the center.

"They load them up in the van with all this stuff in the back end, and they're gone," Meier said. "They're not even given a chance to say 'goodbye.'"

One resident, Meier said, was promised that he'd be taken to a Chicago Cubs game once a week when he moves to his new home.

"Do you really believe they're going to take him to a Cubs game every week?" Meier asked.

The Friends of Murray Center, which consists mostly of parents of Murray Center residents, is pressing the lawsuits to keep open the center, which has been home to about 270 adults with developmental disabilities. The center has about 230 residents now.

Middendorff, in his ruling, said the temporary restraining order is appropriate because any potential harm to the state "is outweighed by the threat of harm to persons in the protected group."

But the judge also wrote that he has "grave concerns" with the tactics used by the parent group. The group sought an "ex parte" court order, which means the state was not notified of the matter and did not have an opportunity to present arguments.

Middendorff appointed local attorney Stuart Freeman to serve as the guardian who will temporarily represent the Murray Center residents who are wards of the state. The judge also ordered that another hearing on the group's request that an injunction be issued.

Januari Smith, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Human Services, issued a statement in response to the judge's ruling: "We are committed to rebalancing the system of care for persons with disabilities and have implemented a process to do it safely. We will follow the judge's order and look forward to presenting our case in court."

Gov. Pat Quinn has said closing the center and placing its residents in private, group homes is less expensive -- about $120,000 per year versus about $239,000 per year at Murray Center. The governor also said people with developmental disabilities have a better quality of life if they are not kept in institutions.

Supporters of the center say some of its residents have such profound disabilities that they need around-the-clock care and couldn't reside in a private home.

Contact reporter Brian Brueggemann at bbrueggemann@bnd.com or 239-2511.

Contact reporter Brian Brueggemann at bbrueggemann@bnd.com or 239-2511.

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