Jenny Destined for Group Home, for Now

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) – The guardianship of a 28-year-old woman with Down syndrome was given back to her mother, despite her pleas for independence.

Jenny Hatch’s mother fought to keep Jenny in a group home, but Jenny has repeatedly said she wants to live with her friends, Kelly Morris and Jim Talbert, who say they will gladly take her in.

The implications of Jenny’s case are gaining statewide attention. The State of Virginia was recently sued by the U.S. Department of Justice for putting too many people like Jenny into group homes, instead of single family homes like Morris and Talbert’s.

Jenny’s mother, Julia Ross, was appointed Jenny’s temporary guardian in Newport News Circuit Court Thursday by Judge David Pugh.

After the hearing, Ross was escorted to her car by eight deputies and had nothing to say as 10 On Your Side grilled her for answers.

Jenny’s previous guardians, the Jewish Family Service (JFS), were pulled off the case Thursday.

“It was quite a burden,” JFS attorney Greg Pomije said. “It was too much for a non-profit to undergo.”

Pomije told Pugh in court his organization’s involvement in Jenny’s case has cost more than $21,000 in legal fees.  Pugh appointed Jenny’s mother be her guardian because there was no other independent option like the JFS available.

Jenny has a strained relationship with her mother, especially following a car accident after which Ross allegedly failed to care for her daughter. Talbert and Kelly took Jenny in at that point.

“She knows how she feels, she knows what she wants… what in the hell is the problem?” Morris said following the hearing.

Ross wants to place Jenny in group homes, where Kelly and Talbert know she won’t thrive or be happy.

“We love her, she has a sense of belonging in our home,” Morris said.

Talbert and Morris were named as interested parties in the case and got to sit next to Jenny during the proceedings.

“I think we were made parties of the case just to keep us quiet,” Talbert said. “I think they just placated us. I think what happened was just a fiasco what happened in that courtroom.

Attorney Dana Traynham with the Virginia Office for Protection And Advocacy (VOPA) was going to take over Jenny’s case

In court, it was revealed Traynham, who was investigating a complaint against the Jewish Family Service, accepted private records in that investigation before deciding to take over the case.

“I have concerns, Ms. Traynham . I think you violated the spirit of the conflict of interest law… I don’t think a government agency should be given confidential information about Ms. Hatch and then turn around and represent her…. you can not wear two hats.. .I think you violated the spirit of the law,” Pugh said in court.

Traynham responded she was withdrawing from the case.

When 10 On Your Side approached Traynham after the hearing, she said she had no comment.

A guardianship hearing is scheduled for May 1.

Date: Thursday, February 7, 2013
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Authors: Andy Fox