Northumberland County Courts Targeted by Feds for Discrimination

HARRISBURG — Spotlight PA is reporting… Northumberland County is one of the counties targeted by the U.S. Department of Justice for discriminating against some people.

Specifically, the county harms people with opioid use disorder by restricting access to medications widely seen in the medical community as lifesaving.

The outcome of this court case — which directly involves the state Supreme Court, as well as Blair, Jefferson, Lackawanna, and Northumberland County court systems as defendants — could have major implications across the state for people who experience opioid addiction and face criminal charges.

Recently filed court documents show the opposing sides appear close to finalizing a settlement agreement. Officials representing the state court system have until the end of the month to approve or reject the proposed agreement, the details of which are not available in public court documents.

The DOJ has already accepted the agreement, according to a judge’s December order.  Sally Friedman of the advocacy group Legal Action Center is following the case closely. Her organization represents one of the individuals who’s alleging they were harmed by a county court’s restrictions.

She called the medication bans “extremely dangerous and counterproductive,” and said it’s “terrific that the Department of Justice is trying to bring the state court system to task on this and get them to change the way they do things.”

 

Through a spokesperson, officials representing the state court system and county courts involved in the case declined to comment for this story. A DOJ spokesperson also declined to comment.

 

A review of legal filings reveals the broad scope of the allegations in Pennsylvania. The documents show how the major dispute of the case centers on what responsibility state court leaders have over decisions made in local courts.

 

The agency has brought the case under the Americans with Disabilities Act. In one hearing, a DOJ attorney made a distinction between a decision a judge might make about an individual defendant versus the “blanket banning of treatment,” which the attorney argued is not allowed.

 

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