Cuomo Administration dealt legal setback in effort to close WNY Children's Psych Center

Oct 11, 2017

A citizen coalition's lawsuit to block a planned shutdown of  the Western New York Children's Psychiatric Center has been allowed to proceed. On Wednesday, a motion by the state to dismiss their lawsuit was denied in State Supreme Court.

Governor Andrew Cuomo's administration wants to close the West Seneca-based children's center and move its young patients to the Buffalo Psychiatric Center campus. In court Wednesday, Assistant New York State Attorney General Denetra Roberts argued that while the Coalition to Save the Children's Psychiatric Center has provided affidavits from various experts as well as parents and guardians of former patients, they did provide such from current patients, and thus their lawsuit does not have proper standing.

State Assemblyman Michael Kearns, an opponent of a plan to close the Western New York Children's Psychiatric Center, stands and chats with attorney Steven Cohen, who is representing a coalition trying to block the Cuomo Administration's planned shutdown. Seated with Cohen is attorney Rebecca Kujawa, who is also working with the coalition. At left is Assistant State Attorney Denetra Roberts.
Credit Michael Mroziak, WBFO

State Supreme Court Justice Catherine Nugent Panepinto disagreed and denied the motion. Outside the courtroom the Coalition's attorney, Steven Cohen, said their case had enough standing without the affidavits of current patients and to pursue them would be inappropriate.

"I don't know that it's in a child's best interest to to identify themselves as a mental health patient. There are HIPAA laws to be concerned with," Cohen said. "But the governor is saying 'Hey, where are these kids? Where are the affidavits from them?' That's ludicrous. You don't get an affidavit from an eight-year-old who is bipolar. But the judge saw through all that."

Opponents of the Cuomo Administration plan say moving young patients - some as young as four years old - into the Buffalo Psychiatric Center grounds will put them at greater risk. State Assemblyman Michael Kearns and State Senator Patrick Gallivan represent the neighborhood where the children's center is located and oppose the move. Kearns appeared in court but did not testify. Outside the courtroom, he argued the governor's plan is contradictory to another measure he championed to protect underaged people within the criminal justice system.

"The governor presented the Legislature with 'Raise the Age,' where he said it's not feasible to put adults in with children," Kearns said. "So if it's not feasible in the criminal justice system, why are we doing this in the mental health system?"

In the courtroom, Cohen suggested the governor has a plan for the parcel of land on which the children's center sits but has not revealed what that may be. He was also allowed an opportunity to offer his opinion as to why Cuomo continues to pursue closure of the West Seneca center, in spite of multiple actions by the State Legislature to keep it open.

"The governor is looking for higher office. The governor has an ego that is absolutely out of control," said Cohen. "He believes that he is unstoppable. He has absolutely said 'I don't care that the Legislature has voted unanimously against this. I can change them.'"

The plaintiffs anticipate delivering an order to the State Attorney General's office by Friday, after which that office will be afforded time to prepare a response. Cohen told reporters outside the courtroom he anticipates the governor will try to exhaust the plaintiffs financially, and he anticipates more appeals and motions before a trial date may be set.