Trial begins in parental rights case

By Rebecca Boone
Associated Press Writer

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A federal jury will hear arguments this week to decide whether a family’s civil rights were violated when their young daughter was given a spinal tap against their wishes.

Jury selection began Monday in the lawsuit brought by Corissa and Eric Mueller against St. Luke’s Regional Medical Center, Dr. Richard MacDonald, Boise and state officials. Opening arguments in the three-week trial are expected to begin Thursday.

The Muellers, former Boise residents who now live in Kalaheo, Hawaii, filed the lawsuit nearly six years ago, saying their constitutional rights were violated in 2002 when a Boise police officer took custody of their 5-week-old daughter so a doctor could give her a spinal tap to check for signs of meningitis. Over the next few weeks, jurors will be asked to decide that and several other issues, including whether the system to determine imminent danger in medical cases is flawed.

“It’s an important case,” says the Mueller’s attorney, Michael Rosman, with the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Individual Rights. “It’s a case about government interference with a family.”

Corissa Mueller brought her then-infant daughter Taige to St. Luke’s Regional Medical Center in Boise because the child had a fever. Her doctor wanted to perform a spinal tap to check for meningitis and other infections, and to administer antibiotics. But according to the lawsuit, the doctor told Corissa Mueller the child’s chance of having meningitis was about 5 percent, and she objected because she felt the risk didn’t outweigh the risks of a spinal tap and antibiotics.

Doctors at the hospital called a social worker, who called police. The police seized custody of the baby girl and a doctor performed the spinal tap, which showed she didn’t have meningitis. Taige wasn’t harmed by the procedure.

J. Walter Sinclair, the attorney representing St. Luke’s Regional Medical Center, said he couldn’t comment on details of the case.

“St. Luke’s focuses on providing the best medical care possible for their patients, and we believe we did so,” Sinclair said.

Keely Duke, one of the attorneys representing MacDonald, said the doctor carried out his duty to protect the baby girl.

“Dr. MacDonald was trying to do what is medically indicated and in the best interest of the child,” said Rich Hall, another attorney representing MacDonald.

The attorneys representing the city of Boise and state officials did not immediately return phone calls from The Associated Press.