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Prior Restraint: Judge Prevents DCS Critic From Speaking Out On Camera

Dcs_logo The Department of Child Services will do anything -- even obtaining a possibly unconstitutional restraining order against a local television station -- to prevent its critics from speaking out.

It is, after all, an election year, and we wouldn't want Jim "Maverick" Payne making the Guv look bad, would we?

A disabled veteran and single father of four, McGaha, 37, said he thinks the court and Department of Child Services are out to get him because he stood up to workers he contends have treated him and his four children unfairly.

After the TV segment aired, Honk For Kids asked the station, WXIN (Channel 59), why McGaha's face had been blurred and was told of the restraining order. That was the first that anyone, including McGaha, had heard about the judge's action.

Gavin Maliska, news director at WXIN, said station officials discussed challenging the order, which was issued the day the segment was to air, but decided McGaha's contributions weren't essential to the story.

"It came down to principle versus practical," he said. "If it would have affected what we were trying to do with the story, we probably would have had a different outcome."

Maliska said the court order was sought by the guardian ad litem who represents McGaha's children in a Child in Need of Services case in Fountain County.

The guardian ad litem, Covington attorney Sue White, did not return calls from The Indianapolis Star, and the court would not release a copy of the order. Bailiff Dianne Cotten said it was part of the confidential records of the CHINS case and could not be made public.

However, a copy obtained by The Star showed that Henderson barred WXIN "from broadcasting any portion of an interview involving Mark McGaha and his minor children until such time as the guardian ad litem and/or court has an opportunity to review" the report.

The order said the injunction was issued to protect the best interests of the children. Karlson said that does not provide the constitutional standard for such an order.

"I see no basis on which a prior restraint could have been imposed," he said. "He has an absolute right to complain about his treatment by the court or any other government agency."

McGaha could appeal the judge's ruling, Karlson said, "but it's basically a moot point" because the opportunity to air his complaints on TV has passed.

"I don't know what's more outrageous: the judge ordering this and not knowing it violates the Constitution, or knowing and still issuing the injunction," Karlson said.

James W. Payne, who heads DCS, said he could not talk about the specifics of McGaha's case. He said DCS has no control over the judge's actions and that parents who have a beef with the agency or court have a number of avenues to have their concerns addressed.

McGaha's children have been in foster care for more than a year. He said they were removed based on allegations he had missed "a couple doctor appointments" for his children, two of whom have ongoing medical problems.

"That was taken care of long before they (DCS) ever got involved," said McGaha, who lives in Lafayette. "After that, I did everything they said, but they kept coming after me."

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