'This is an egregious case': AJ Freund's estate considering lawsuit against DCFS
A McHenry County judge appointed a bank to serve as the administrator of slain child AJ Freund's estate Monday, clearing the way for a potential wrongful-death lawsuit against the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services.
AJ and his family had dozens of contacts with the state agency before the 5-year-old was found dead April 24 in a shallow grave near Woodstock, six days after his parents reported him missing.
Parents JoAnn Cunningham, 36, and Andrew Freund, 60, of Crystal Lake now stand charged with his killing.
In court Monday, Judge Michael Chmiel approved a petition naming State Bank of Geneva as administrator of AJ's estate. The move allows attorneys for the estate to investigate the state's handling of AJ's case, seek state records involving him and his family, and sue DCFS or others.
"We really need to get to the heart of what this is about and see what DCFS has," said attorney Ted Meyers. "Not just the timeline, but the actual records. Based on what we've seen so far, this is an egregious case."
Winning damages from DCFS in state court would be challenging for the estate. State law provides widespread immunity to state agencies and their workers from negligence claims.
However, Meyers said, another option is bringing a federal lawsuit alleging DCFS violated AJ's constitutional rights to equal protection under the law.
Meyers said he also hopes AJ's case will cause change in state laws protecting children. AJ's case was one in which "obviously overworked" caseworkers missed obvious signs of abuse, he said.
"We don't think it will be a simple matter, but something has to change," Meyers added.
AJ's parents did not appear in Chmiel's courtroom for the estate matter but were in court earlier Monday for proceedings to identify the father of a girl Cunningham gave birth to May 31 while in custody.
A court has ordered DNA testing of Andrew Freund and Daniel Nowicki, 36, of Crystal Lake to determine who is the father.
Officials said in court Monday that neither man -- both in custody at the McHenry County jail -- has been swabbed for DNA yet, delaying the proceedings to Aug. 12. The girl, along with AJ's younger brother, remains in DCFS custody.
Cunningham and Andrew Freund remain in the county jail on $5 million bail each while awaiting trial on charges of first-degree murder, aggravated battery, domestic battery and failure to report a missing child or child death. Andrew Freund faces an additional charge of concealment of a death.
Authorities believe AJ was forced to stand in a cold shower and struck multiple time on the head, causing his death. His body was wrapped in plastic and buried in a field near Woodstock. Three days later, police say, his parents reported him missing.
Nowicki is jailed on a petition to revoke a probation sentence he received May 22 for an aggravated battery conviction. McHenry County prosecutors moved to revoke the probation June 11, alleging Nowicki failed a drug test. His attorney, Bill Bligh, said in court Monday that Nowicki is attempting to get into a drug-treatment center in Waukegan.