Supreme Court To Consider Whether Child Porn Possessor Can Sue Social Worker

, The Connecticut Law Tribune


John Costa

Lee Greenwald was perhaps 14 years old when he began looking at child pornography. Already a troubled youth who had needed counseling since he was 7, he told a licensed clinical social worker about his dangerous new habit. The social worker, according to Greenwald, failed to help him. He also didn't refer Greenwald to another professional, nor did he tell the teen's parents what he had learned.

Greenwald, now in his early 20s, was arrested by Southbury police in July 2010 for possession of child pornography. Even before he was officially charged, Greenwald hired a lawyer and sued the social worker for professional malpractice. The future of that lawsuit is now in the hands of the state Supreme Court. Oral arguments are scheduled for Monday, October 21.

Last year a trial judge dismissed Greenwald's lawsuit on grounds that public policy does not allow compensation for injuries caused by a person's own wrongful conduct.

Both the Connecticut Trial Lawyers Association and Connecticut Defense Lawyers Association have also weighed in on the case. The trial lawyers believe Greenwald should be able to move forward with his lawsuit. The defense lawyers believe that would set a bad precedent, potentially enabling hardened criminals to blame past medical providers for their illegal behavior.

Greenwald's lawyer, James P. "Jim" Brennan, of the Brennan Law Firm in Waterbury, hopes to convince the state's highest court that his client's claim against the social worker, David Van Handel, should go to trial. "You've got a kid here, 14, 15 years old," said Brennan. "This [child porn habit] should've at least been attempted to be nipped in the bud."

Brennan said Greenwald's "anti-social, criminal behavior" continued on until he legally became an adult. He was arrested following an early morning raid of his home.

"The health care provider in this case knew or should have known that his failure to address the plaintiff's very serious anti-social behavior could lead to the plaintiff's addiction, arrest and incarceration," said Brennan. "In other words, it was foreseeable."

Borrowing a standard practice from medical malpractice cases, Brennan obtained a letter from a similarly licensed social worker, who stated Greenwald's social worker had a responsibility to take more aggressive action.

"Because of the severe legal consequences that viewing child pornography carries, any privacy concerns associated with the counselor/counselee relationship with the youth must be set aside in order to notify the guardian who had been a positive participant in the ongoing therapeutic relationship," read the letter by the expert. "A strategy as simple as calling a conjoint therapy session with the parent would have satisfied the requirement of parental notification and served to protect the child."

'Wrongful Conduct Rule'

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