Former DCFS workers want state's legal help in AJ Freund suit

  • Carlos Acosta

    Carlos Acosta

 
 
Updated 12/17/2019 4:37 PM

Three former Department of Children and Family Services workers being sued by the estate of murdered 5-year-old AJ Freund say the state should defend them in court, but Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul is refusing to do so.

A federal judge on Tuesday gave the trio three months to figure it out.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Former DCFS social worker Carlos Acosta was the only defendant in court Tuesday. The other two former employees, Acosta's supervisor Andrew Polovin and fellow caseworker Kathleen Gold, did not appear.

Acosta has sought the state's assistance in his legal defense because he was employed by DCFS, but the state has so far refused to provide any, he wrote in a statement filed with the court last month. He told Judge Jorge Alonso that "it's been a challenge" trying to find private counsel, as well.

Raoul's office cited a state act that allows the state to recuse itself from cases involving workers whose actions were "not within the scope of the employee's state employment or was intentional, willful or wanton misconduct."

The lawsuit accuses the three of neglecting their duties and falsifying records in abuse allegations made to the agency about the boy's parents.

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An attorney for the dead boy's estate, Craig Brown, said he is also seeking clarity from Raoul's office as to why the state is refusing to provide legal assistance to its former employees.

The state and the agency are not named in the suit. Legal experts said the state would likely be financially responsible if the employees lose the case.

"From our perspective, the allegations in the complaint make it clear the attorney general is obligated to defend these individuals," Brown said after the short Tuesday morning hearing in downtown Chicago.

Alonso set a status hearing on the issue for Jan. 30 and said a decision on defense counsel needs to be reached within three months.

Freund was killed April 15. His mother, JoAnn Cunningham, pleaded guilty to his murder earlier this month. She is awaiting sentencing, which could be as much as 60 years behind bars. AJ's father, Andrew Freund Sr., is in jail awaiting trial. He told authorities Cunningham killed the boy while punishing AJ for lying about soiled underwear. The boy's father told investigators he hid AJ's body in a bag and then buried it days later in a field near Woodstock before calling police to report the boy missing.

AJ's estate represents the boy's older brother, a younger brother and baby sister who Cunningham gave birth to months after being arrested.

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