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Haleigh Poutre's mother pursues visiting rights


BOSTON - Lawyers for the biological mother of 12-year-old Haleigh Poutre yesterday asked a judge to allow the mother to see her brain-injured daughter again in a Boston hospital.

Allison Avrett, 30, of Agawam filed a lawsuit against the state Department of Social Services earlier this month after social workers barred her from visiting her child in August at the Franciscan Children's Hospital in Boston, ending regular visits that had run through July.

The girl was admitted to Baystate Medical Center in Springfield a year ago with a severe injury to her brain stem. Haleigh was the center of a right-to-die battle last year before she began breathing on her own and responding to questions, prompting the state to abandon plans to remove her life support.

Avrett's lawyers want a judge to order the state to reinstate visitation rights and to provide the mother with medical information about Haleigh.

Suffolk Superior Court Judge Kathe Tuttman yesterday took the requests under advisement and didn't say when she would rule.

Elizabeth M. Clague of Brockton, co-lawyer for Avrett, told the judge that Avrett has a constitutional right to see her child. She said the visits and her relationship with the child are important to the child's recovery.

Citing the child's privacy rights, lawyers for the state unsuccessfully asked the judge to close yesterday's hearing in Suffolk Superior Court. The state Department of Social Services has custody of the child. During brief remarks in open court, Assistant Attorney General Margaret J. Hurley said Avrett lacks legal standing to seek visitation rights or medical information. Hurley said Avrett is not the parent of the child.

Assistant Attorney General Sarah M. Joss said restoring visitation rights should be rejected because Avrett is unlikely to win the lawsuit on the merits of the case. She also said Avrett can't show any "irreparable harm."

The judge yesterday impounded certain documents filed as part of the lawsuit.

Avrett attended the hearing with her mother, Sandra L. Sudyka of Agawam.

Wendy J. Murphy, co-lawyer for Avrett, also argued yesterday for the first time in open court that the state lacked jurisdiction over Haleigh when the state Department of Social Services took custody of her in 1998 and allowed her to remain in the home of her aunt, Holli A. Strickland, who adopted her in 2001.

The child and Avrett were living in Williamsburg, Va., when the child visited her aunt in Massachusetts, Murphy said. Holli Strickland reported to the state that Avrett's boyfriend in Virginia sexually abused Haleigh, but police in Virginia and Massachusetts investigated and determined the allegations were false, Murphy said.

The adoption of Haleigh should be "null and void" because Massachusetts had no jurisdiction over a child who was a resident of Virginia before she visited her aunt during 1998, Murphy said.

Strickland, of Westfield, and her husband, Jason D. Strickland, were charged with severely beating the child, causing her to be hospitalized in Springfield. Holli Strickland died in a murder-suicide in West Springfield on Sept. 22, 2005. Her husband has pleaded innocent to assault and battery charges.

2006 Sep 27