Parents Fighting State Over Girl's Care Want New Judge
By LYNN BREZOSKY / Associated Press
An Agua Dulce couple fighting the state over their daughter's cancer care wants the judge who cut off family contact removed because of questions about his impartiality after he visited the girl in the hospital.
Corpus Christi Juvenile Court Judge Carl Lewis signed the order cutting off the contact from his hospital bed on Sept. 20, the day after a heart condition interrupted an emergency hearing in the case. Before he took ill, he said his visit with Katie Wernecke at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston convinced him her parents were influencing her to refuse care.
Katie, 13, stalled high-dose chemotherapy for her Hodgkin's disease by ripping out catheters and refusing to cooperate with nurses and doctors. Her father, Edward Wernecke, has said the treatment is extremely dangerous and could be more harmful than helpful.
Attorney James A. Pikl filed a motion Monday seeking the judge's recusal or disqualification. The motion contends that Lewis' private visit with Katie was improper and put his impartiality in question.
"If we are going to allow judges to conduct their own "investigation" into the merits of cases they are adjudicating and then still remain as judge of the case, then our system of law requiring a fair, impartial judiciary will become a joke," the motion says.
The 13th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals denied a request on Tuesday to to overturn Lewis' order.
Ed Wernecke said the judge's decision to cut the contact was "cruel" and Katie had made up her own mind about treatment.
"She knows that there's other alternatives they could be choosing," he said, citing weaker chemotherapy and high-dose vitamin C.
"The hearing was never completed," he added. "On the day of the hearing there was no testimony. ... They have to have evidence of us interfering or doing something, and we're not allowed ever to testify."
A flurry of motions, expanding legal team and "collateral" approach caused attorney Daniel Horne to withdraw from the case.
"I believe the Werneckes have a right to have their daughter home and make the decisions, but they want to look at in terms of a collateral attack on it and I was looking at it in terms of the merits," he said. "The strangest irony in all this is that everybody really, really does want to do the best for Katie. We certainly don't want to be legally right and then Katie dies."
He said family court code may have allowed the judge's visit because Linda Rhodes-Schauer, Katie's court-appointed attorney, requested it.
Thomas Stuckey, representing Nueces County, said he hoped to file a response to the recusal motion by Friday. Katie was removed from her parents in June after a doctor told social workers the family was refusing medical treatment and endangering her life. She has been with a foster family in Houston.