Justice for Jenny
Andy Fox, Justice for Jenny, Wavy.com, October 25, 2012, available at http://www.wavy.com/news/local/newport-news/justice-for-jenny
NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) - Twenty-eight-year-old Jenny Hatch has Down Syndrome but had lived fully integrated in her community until a judge ordered her into the guardianship with the Jewish Family Service (JFS) of Tidewater, away from everything she knew.
The attorney representing JFS, Gregory Pomije, wrote Jenny's friends Kelly Morris and Jim Talbert and told them, "It has been decided that temporarily, your visits with her and any other contact with her, must cease."
This is the latest development in a guardianship battle involving Jenny.
Court documents show Jenny's mother was unable to take care of Jenny after she was hit by a car while riding her bike in March. Morris and Talbert had provided a home for Jenny for two months after the accident. They are upset that Jenny is now segregated, away from all she knows.
10 On Your Side found Jenny's new home, a nondescript group home. Jenny could be seen through the window.
Jenny was far from friends, far from people who love her and far from what she knows.
"As far as I'm concerned, she is a prisoner," Talbert said.
He and Kelly Morris are partners. They met Jenny in 2008 when they hired her to work in their Village Thrift Store on Warwick Boulevard where there is now a huge "Justice for Jenny" sign outside.
They say Jenny loved to organize the jewelry and dress the mannequins.
"Jenny knows what she wants," Morris said. "She knows how she feels. She loves us dearly and we love her. We are not allowed to see her and we are not allowed to talk to her. We are not allowed to interact with her. How dare anyone do this to an individual?"
When 10 On Your Side met Jenny, she was asked where she wants to live.
Her answer was quick, clear, and decisive.
"I want to live with Jim and Kelly," Jenny said. "I am sad because it's heart breaking, and I want to be with Jim and Kelly."
She was asked if that is what would make her happy. Her answer, just as quick, "Yes."
Jenny is a high-functioning woman with Down Syndrome, who can read, write, is mentally competent and capable. She worked with pay 20 hours a week at Jim and Kelly's Village Thrift Store.
"In this whole thing. I've probably shed more tears than I have in 20 years, and what's being done to Jenny is wrong, and it needs to be made right," says Talbert .
Jenny has also worked on local political campaigns including Newport News Councilwoman Pat Woodbury's campaign.
"She could function. She did emails, Facebook, she used cell phones... she rode her bike to the office and she was always dependable."
Jenny went to Menchville High School, graduated with a Special Education Diploma and was a member of Christ United Methodist Church.
"Everybody here knew her, and we miss her. We don't know where she's at," Panera Bread Assistant Manager Gary Greer said.
Jenny's attorney, Robert Brown, is claiming her constitutional rights are being violated. In court, he will refer to the following Virginia State Code:
"Consideration shall be given to [a person's] self-reliance and independence; [for] the availability of less restrictive alternatives"
"Some people want to be in a group home and I do not want to be in a group home," Jenny said. "I want to be with Jim and Kelly. That is what I want... I am sad without them."
Brown will also remind a jury that the U.S. Department of Justice sued Virginia for putting too many people like Jenny in group homes like the one she has been forced into, instead of single family homes like Morris and Talbert's.
"Appointing a temporary guardian has taken away her right to live where she wants to live," says Brown.
Jenny is in court fighting her biological mother Julia Ross who, according to court testimony, wants Jenny in a group home, not with Morris and Talbert.
10 On Your Side found Ross and asked her several questions about Jenny. Ross ran into a back room, but told WAVY.com through the door, "No, [I will not answer the question]. My lawyer said I should not do that."
"If there is a family that comes along and says, 'I love your daughter and I want to take care of her,' and if she wants to live in our home, she is more than welcome. [As a mother], I would embrace that wholeheartedly," Morris said.
"I would be happy to go back to Jim and Kelly. I love the thrift store... make me free. Make me get my freedom back," Jenny told 10 On Your Side.
Brown has filed a motion with Newport News Circuit Court asking that Jenny stay with Talbert and Morris until the guardianship proceedings are heard by a jury. That court date has not yet been set.