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Lisa Riley Roche

The Deseret News

A Challenger Foundation lawsuit against the state is not being dropped, despite an agreement with the attorney general's office to work toward licensing the embattled program for troubled youths.

At Challenger's request, U.S. District Judge Bruce Jenkins agreed Tuesday to strike from the court calendar a hearing on a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction sought to stop the state from shutting down the program.

The need for Challenger to head off state action became moot late Monday when the state lifted a Wednesday deadline for meeting existing licensing regulations.

Jenkins also set an Oct. 20 court date to check the progress of the negotiations agreed to by the state and Challenger to determine what requirements the program must meet to be licensed.

The negotiations are scheduled to begin Aug. 28 and continue through Oct. 13. If the issue is not resolved by then, attorney D. Eugene Thorne said a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction would again be sought.

After the brief hearing, Challenger founder Steve Cartisano said no matter what happens, he will continue to pursue an unspecified amount of money sought in the lawsuit for the loss of ``reputation and earnings'' and other damages.

Cartisano said the agreement reached with representatives of the attorney general's office and the state Department of Social Services, which licenses youth-treatment programs, has no effect on that portion of the lawsuit.

``It's a whole separate issue,'' Cartisano said, adding that he does not believe the pending lawsuit will hinder efforts to find a way to license Challenger that is satisfactory to both sides.

Cartisano has contended that Challenger should not be subject to regulations developed by the Youth Corrections Division of the Department of Social Services, which deals with youths who have been sentenced to treatment.

Challenger, he said, does not accept adjudicated youths. Instead, the $12,500, 63-day program is geared toward reaching rebellious teenagers before they reach that point.

Questions surrounding the care being given the youths put into Challenger by their parents surfaced earlier this month after the boyfriend of a 17-year-old New York girl successfully sued for her release.

Based on the girl's complaints about the 18-month-old program, the attorney general's office sent a lengthy list of requirements that must be met for licensing, including providing adequate food, shelter and restroom facilities.

Challenger responded to the demands of the attorney general's office by filing its lawsuit, which says the program has been harmed by investigations conducted by the state as well as the threat of closure.

Assistant Attorney General Paul Tinker told the court Tuesday that the investigations and demands made of Challenger are ``within our right and duty.''

But he said a visit last Friday to the program's remote desert site convinced state officials that the program is in ``substantial compliance'' with the requirements.

However, Tinker said that if new evidence of problems with Challenger were to surface, the state could move again to close down the program. He also told the court there is ``no guarantee'' that Challenger will be licensed.

1989 Aug 16