Counselor settles suit over child abuse registry

Date: 2000-07-09

Deseret News, Tuesday, August 03, 1999, 12:00 AM MDT

Youth group founder to receive $35,000

By Jim Rayburn Deseret News staff writer

A youth counselor who sought $1.5 million from the state for secretly listing his name on a child abuse registry has accepted $35,000 to settle his lawsuit.

Layne R. Meacham, founder of the troubled-youth program Proctor Advocate, filed a federal lawsuit in 1996 claiming the state violated his due process rights by putting his name on the registry without notice or a hearing.

He said the blacklisting cost him employment and he didn't even know his name was on the list until the Department of Youth Corrections rejected his youth counseling program proposal in 1994.

"(It is) a significant amount of money and I think they paid it because they recognized the error of their ways," said Meacham's attorney, James McConkie. "There were clear due-process violations."

But a spokeswoman in Attorney General Jan Graham's office said the settlement was simply the most "cost and time-efficient" decision for the state. "We would have prevailed in this," said Tracey Tabet.

"I think the important part in this is that . . . there is no admission of liability or no admission of a violation of (Meacham's) constitutional rights."

Meacham has battled with state officials since 1989 when he was charged with abusing a 16-year-old girl in his program. He was convicted of a misdemeanor but the judge threw out the conviction, ruling the jury made errors. State officials also petitioned to sanction Meacham's social worker license alleging he physically and verbally abused youth in his care.

The state later agreed to dismiss the criminal charge when Meacham agreed not to apply for a clinical social worker license for two years.

Meacham has repeatedly denied all of the abuse allegations and filed several lawsuits against state officials and those who accused him of abuse. Most of the suits were dismissed or settled out of court.

In 1996 the state pulled the plug on Yes Families, another troubled-youth program founded by Meacham that operated in Utah County. An administrative law judge ruled Yes Families violated fire codes, failed to provide criminal background checks on employees, allowed host families to take in too many teens and taught teens to physically subdue peers.

The settlement approved Monday does not clear Meacham's name, however. He must now argue his case in an administrative hearing with the Department of Human Services. The hearing has not yet been scheduled. Meacham told the Deseret News Monday that he expects his name will quickly be cleared.

Only the Department of Human Services and Health Department licensing officials have access to the list, which is intended to help screen out potential abusers seeking licenses to work with children. However, the Department of Human Services is now required to notify people on the list.

The new rules required notifying 25,000 people who had been placed on the list previously. The notifications sparked a firestorm of protest. Many said they had no knowledge they had ever been investigated for abuse or neglect. Child-welfare officials contended legislators, in mandating the changes, had caved into constituents at the expense of protecting children.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Copyright � 2000, Deseret News Publishing Corp.