Judge holds off on state wards ruling in Murray Center case

News-DemocratDecember 11, 2013 

Supporters made "Save Murray Center" signs during the fight to keep the facility open.

ZIA NIZAMI/BND

A Clinton County judge on Wednesday gave the supporters the Murray Center "a huge Christmas present," according to their leader.

Judge William Becker decided to postpone ruling on whether the 23 residents of the Murray Center who are wards of the state will be included in the federal civil rights lawsuits and other legal actions pending on behalf of the other residents at Murray Center, as parents and guardians attempt to stop the state's closure of the Centralia facility for adults with developmental disabilities.

Rita Winkeler, chairman of the Murray Center Parents Association, said that the judge's ruling means the residents who are wards of the state will not be moved out of Murray Center for the time being.

"At this point, no one can be moved from Murray Center unless the parent or guardian wants them to," Winkeler said. "What Judge Becker is saying is that the issues of the (wards of the state) are similar to the issues of the plaintiffs in the federal lawsuit, so he is going to wait until the federal lawsuit is resolved before he would rule on the issue."

The federal lawsuit alleges that the residents' civil rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act and other rights are being violated by closing the institution and moving them to smaller homes. Winkeler said some of the residents need full-time nursing care and specialists that they would not be able to access living in community homes of two to four people.

But of the more than 200 people who live in Murray Center, 23 were wards of the state and did not have parents or guardians to advocate for them, Winkeler said.

"It's something I've worried about since the beginning," she said. "We really worry about the wards of the state because they don't have parents and guardians to protect their rights."

Winkeler said the judge's ruling is "a huge Christmas present" for the residents and their families. "They will be safe and happy with people who are trained to help them,' she said."

The federal lawsuit will have a settlement hearing in Chicago on Thursday, Winkeler said. If no settlement is reached, it will go to court in January.

As to whether she expects a settlement is likely, Winkeler said she "highly doubts it."

Contact reporter Elizabeth Donald at edonald@bnd.com or 239-2507.

Contact reporter Elizabeth Donald at edonald@bnd.com or 239-2507.

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