Members of the State Finance Council, including Gov. Laura Kelly, Senate President Ty Masterson and House Speaker Ron Ryckman, voted to obligate state taxpayers to financial settlement of two lawsuits. One case involving the Kansas Department for Children and Families required payment of $250,000 to settle. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)
TOPEKA — Gov. Laura Kelly and top legislative leaders of both political parties voted Wednesday to accept Attorney General Derek Schmidt’s recommendation for cash settlements of a pair of lawsuits filed against the state.
The State Finance Council, acting on Schmidt’s negotiations with plaintiffs, agreed to allocate $250,000 to resolve a Wyandotte County District Court lawsuit filed on behalf of “D.D.” against foster care provider KVC Kansas and the Kansas Department for Children and Families.
Council members went into executive session to discuss the case. When they returned to public session, the livestream feed of council’s meeting stopped as legislators and the governor were voting on the D.D. settlement.
The resolution approved by the council required $65,000 of the D.D. settlement money to be drawn directly from DCF, while the remainder would come from the state’s tort claims fund.
A lawsuit in the case was filed in 2019, but Wyandotte County District Court could not supply copies of documents outlining claims. The records system has been down since Easter weekend following a cyber attack, said court administrator Anita Peterson. She referred questions to Presiding Judge Robert Burns, who could not be reached immediately.
In 2021, in a separate foster care case, a federal judge ordered the state of Kansas to pay $2.3 million in attorney fees and expenses to groups that filed a class-action lawsuit highlighting problems in the system. That lawsuit focused on placement stability and mental health services for foster kids.
Meanwhile, the State Finance Council voted Wednesday to authorize state payment of $5,000 to end a civil-rights lawsuit filed by Lansing Correctional Facility inmate Chris Brownfield against Corizon Health, which provided health services in prison facilities under contract with the Kansas Department of Corrections.
U.S. District Court documents tied to the suit indicated Brownfield was injured in June 2019 while working at an in-prison job in the Lansing prison. He was told to fix an ice machine, without supervision, despite no formal training in HVAC repair. Because a safety cover was missing, two fingers of his right hand were nearly cut off by a fan. His wounds were stitched at the University of Kansas Medical Center, but the Department of Corrections rejected KUMC doctors’ preference for exploratory surgery on Brownfield’s hand.
Brownfield, incarcerated for aiding first-degree murder in Crawford County, was taken back to the prison’s infirmary. He was denied pain medication by Corizon doctors and denied routine treatment of his finger wounds by Corizon staff. Prison officials delayed transport to KUMC for follow-up visits. Despite a powerful odor emerging from his damaged fingers, Brownfield was left to cut his own stitches out.
In June 2020, Kansas officials fired Corizon after years of performance shortcomings at state prison facilities. Brownfield’s lawyer filed a federal lawsuit alleging negligence. To settle the case, the council agreed to pay Brownfield $5,000.
The Kansas Reflector filed a Kansas Open Records Request to secure information about what the council obligated Kansas taxpayers to pay to settle each of the cases.
Rep. Troy Waymaster, R-Bunker Hill, said while making a motion to go into executive session to discuss the cases that secrecy was necessary at this stage of the process because “discussion of such matters in an open meeting would waive attorney-client privilege.”
The council possesses authority to conduct financial transactions on behalf of the state when the Legislature wasn’t in session.
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