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PJC Argues Standards for Privatizing Essential Government Functions

On February 9, 2005, current Murnaghan Appellate Advocacy Fellow Beth Mellen Harrison filed an amicus curiae brief on behalf of PJC with the Maryland Court of Appeals in Harvey v. Marshall, a case that raises questions about the privatization of essential government functions. This case represents one of the Appellate Project's highest values:  collaboration within and support for the legal services community.  The Legal Aid Bureau and the University of Baltimore School of Law Civil Clinic represent Mr. Harvey, and sought the PJC assistance to file the amicus brief.
The Maryland Child Support Enforcement Administration (CSEA) has contracted out its responsibilities for collecting child support in Baltimore City to a private, for-profit entity.  In this case, the private company rejected a proposal by the CSEA to cease collections on child support arrearages owed to the State by Derek Harvey, a father who had regained custody of his children and was struggling to provide for his family while paying the arrearages.  The CSEA acquiesced in the private contractor’s decision, based solely on profit-driven rationales cited by the company.  The Court of Special Appeals affirmed this wholesale abdication by the CSEA of the best interests of the children, in language suggesting that private contractors are subject to no restraints except those dictated by the private market.
PJC’s brief argued that privatization of government functions must be accompanied by accountability mechanisms to ensure that public interests and government policies are not subordinated to the pecuniary interests of private, for-profit contractors.  The brief discussed the potential for numerous harms to the government’s clients when private contractors follow their own profit motives, and the particular risk to low-income individuals who depend on public benefits and services for their basic needs.  PJC asked the Court to reflect in its decision that privatized government services must be performed consistent with the legal obligations and public goals and policies that apply to the government agency engaging in privatization.

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