The state of Illinois is facing yet another obstacle in its bid to close the Warren G. Murray Center in Centralia, as a 10-day emergency restraining order was entered Monday on behalf of residents who are wards of the state.
In a case filed Monday morning in Clinton County, the employee group Friends of Murray Center Inc., and a number of private individuals filed a request for a temporary restraining order on behalf of Murray residents who are wards of the state. The request seeks to stop those residents from being moved out of Murray, much like a federal restraining order has stopped the movement of residents with private guardians.
Judge Dennis Middendorff approved the temporary request, and appointed Public Defender Stewart Freeman as temporary guardian ad litem for the roughly 20 residents remaining at Murray who are wards of the state.
Monica Sobczak, one of the plaintiffs in the case, said all the residents, including the wards of the state, should stay in their home until the federal court makes a decision on the planned closure.
Sobczak says the plaintiffs do not believe the office of the state guardian has been acting in the best interest of the residents and is instead just doing what the state told them to do and residents were being placed in unsafe conditions, so the plaintiffs decided someone had to protect those residents from the state.
The suit names as defendants not only the Department of Human Services, but its directors, the Office of the State Guardian, administrators of the Murray Center and Community Resource Alliance the private company hired to oversee the closure of Murray.
Rita Winkeler, president of the Murray Parents Association, which is a plaintiff in the federal lawsuit, voiced her pride in the Murray Center staff and the community in stepping up and fighting for those residents.
Winkeler says since the February 2012 announcement that Murray would be closed, she has been worried about the state wards, as they have no one to defend them.
In addition to the request of an emergency temporary restraining order, the plaintiffs seek a preliminary and permanent injunction against the state and its representatives, and ask to have the office of the state guardian replaced with a guardian ad litem who would represent the best interests of each state ward resident at the Murray Center.
State Representative Charlie Meier (R-Okawville), who has been extremely active in the fight to save Murray, said of Monday’s court action, “Today is bad news for Governor Quinn and excellent news for friends of Murray Center. The safety and well-being of the residents of Murray Center will now be preserved.”
Meier commented that far too often society has turned its back on mentally challenged members of society and that Monday’s suit and the judge’s ruling clearly prove that there is care and compassion left in Southern Illinois.
DHS spokeswoman Januari Smith said the state was unaware that such a case had been filed and that the agency had not yet received copies of the complaint. The case will be back in Clinton County Court Aug. 8, with Judge William J. Becker presiding.
Meier closed his comments by saying, “The Friends of Murray Center have finally proven that the wards of the state have friends and family within the small caring village of the Murray Center and within the city of Centralia, Illinois.”