When State Court Solicitor-General Stephanie Woodard’s staff wanted to find out more about a Hall County couple who allegedly let dead dogs rot in a home where children lived, they asked for records from the local office of the Division of Family and Children Services.
And as it has done in the past, the state agency fought the county prosecutor’s subpoena in court, relying on a law that says solicitors do not have access to certain investigative records.
This week, the Georgia legislature voted to change the wording of the law so that solicitors, who prosecute misdemeanors, can have the same access to confidential DFCS records as district attorneys, who prosecute felonies.
Woodard said prosecutors can find out through DFCS records whether parents facing criminal charges have ever been investigated for child neglect, which would help in deciding how to handle a case.
“It paints a different picture for us if they’ve had DFCS intervention before and whether or not they’ve cooperated,” Woodard said.
“Most importantly, it gives us some of the child’s information and perspective without having to re-interview the child. I don’t want any child to have to be questioned and put through the rigors of dealing with authorities if they don’t have to. It really serves everyone in helping to streamline efforts and not duplicate resources.”
A DFCS spokesman was unavailable for comment Friday. The agency did not oppose the bill.
Woodard anticipates with the bill’s passage, her office will gain access to any DFCS records on Michelle and Robert Lynn, whose animal cruelty case is pending in Hall County State Court. The couple is accused of allowing more than a dozen dead animals to decay inside a Murrayville home where young children lived.
The bill was first introduced by state House Rep. Carl Rogers last year. But it failed to make it out of a Senate committee, prompting the Gainesville lawmaker to make an angry speech on the House floor near the end of the 2009 legislative session.
Rogers accused state senators of killing the bill over his handling of an unrelated transportation issue.
“I’m just under the assumption that someone didn’t like how I was handling a subcommittee on one of their bills, and sometimes your emotions get in front of an issue, which is unfortunate,” Rogers said Friday, a year after the dispute. “This is a bill that should have gone right on through. But it was just a communication disruption.”
Rogers said he was hopeful Gov. Sonny Perdue would sign the bill into law.
“It should not be an issue, on this particular bill,” Rogers said.