Criminal trial for Cherokee County’s former social services attorney postponed

Criminal trial for Cherokee County’s former social services attorney postponed

The criminal trial for a former North Carolina social services attorney facing 20 felony charges for his role in separating children from their parents without judicial oversight has been delayed a second time.

Scott Lindsay, former attorney for Cherokee County Department of Social Services, was scheduled to face a jury trial in February and then again in July of this year. His is the last criminal case to be heard involving what courts have found to be an unlawful scheme, so much so that individual family cases have, together, led to the county facing more than $53 million in judgments, settlements and fees.

A grand jury in Murphy indicted Lindsay in 2020 on 20 charges of felony obstruction of justice, two misdemeanor counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor and one misdemeanor count of willful failure to discharge duties, all related to a scheme to separate children from their families without judicial oversight. He is now scheduled to appear in September.

Two former DSS office leaders were charged at the same time: David Hughes, the child welfare supervisor, pleaded guilty to two misdemeanors last year as part of a deal with prosecutors and promised to testify in related cases.

Last year, former DSS Director Cindy Palmer pleaded guilty to one count of felony obstruction of justice and was required to perform 24 hours of community service as part of her sentence. Palmer completed that requirement in February, according to the Cherokee County Clerk of Courts Office.

In 2021, a man and his daughter won a $4.6 million federal civil trial against the county for its policies and actions. Earlier this year, Cherokee County settled more than a dozen cases related to this practice for $42 million. 

Lindsay’s attorney, Jerry Townson, successfully argued to have Lindsay’s misdemeanor charges dropped last year. Carolina Public Press’ attempts to reach Townson for comment in July were unsuccessful.

Cherokee County DSS workers separated parents and children using a document judges later called “a product of actual and constructive fraud.” This happened dozens of times over several years, and social workers testified that Lindsay and Palmer ordered them to use a document called a Custody and Visitation Agreement, or CVA.

Only much later did social workers and parents learn the document was made up. Social workers testified that they questioned the legality of the document, only to be assured by Lindsay that the document was legal.

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