In 1998, Springfield, Oregon, resident Dan Stillman had his parental rights terminated by a circuit court after he was convicted on a federal drug charge. Stillman did his time, got straight, took parenting classes, and in a court battle that ended in 2001, convinced the Oregon Supreme Court to reverse the decision terminating his parental rights. But three years later, the Springfield News reported, the state's Department of Human Services (DHS) still refuses to return his son, 11, and daughter, 13. Despite the Supreme Court ruling, Stillman's children remain wards of the state. While he is allowed to visit them, they are not allowed to live with their father.
The child protection agency refuses to explain why it will not comply with the Supreme Court decision. DHS employees refused to talk to reporters, citing confidentiality issues. Louise Vanderford, the court appointed special advocate worker who is supposed to protect the children's interests, did tell the News that she was "advocating for the children and trying to get the most positive outcome for the kids -- what's in their best interest."
"Why doesn't the Supreme Court mean anything? DHS is acting above the law. They don't have to be accountable to anybody," Stillman told the news.
In reviewing his case, the Supreme Court found that Stillman could be a fit parent and that DHS had provided "very little psychological evidence" about the children. DHS produced no written mental health evaluation of either child and showed no ill effects they may have suffered from their father's drug use.
Bizarrely enough, it appears that DHS will prevail, at least for now. Frustrated and desperate, Stillman sent a letter to the Supreme Court in May complaining that its decision was being ignored. But Supreme Court senior staff attorney Keith Garza wrote back in June. "The court has no authority to act absent the filing of a petition," Garza wrote. "There is no action that either I or the justices properly may take in response to the matters that your letters raise."
Instead, after winning in the appeals court and the Supreme Court, Stillman finds himself back in circuit court and still without his kids. A review hearing has been set for August.
"What else can I do?" Stillman said. "I've done it the right way. I went through the legal process -- farther than anybody -- and I've gotten nowhere. Their method is to wear you down until you fall," Stillman said. "I feel like I'm being prosecuted for a crime I committed 10 years ago. My kids are paying for it too."