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Auditor: LA County Welfare Dept. Illegally Shielding Records Of Child Deaths

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LOS ANGELES (CBS) — An investigation into records of child deaths in Los Angeles County has led to warnings that welfare officials may be committing a crime by withholding documents from state officials.

The state auditor of California said on Monday the troubled Department of Children and Family Services is illegally shielding its records after county supervisors defied a subpoena, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Lawmakers ordered the probe after the Times reported over 70 children had died of abuse or neglect since 2008 after coming to the attention of the county social workers.

County officials have confirmed many of those deaths involved serious case management errors, according to The Times.

The audit seeks to identify whether systemic flaws contributed to fatalities in Los Angeles and other counties. Lawmakers said it probably would result in legal reforms, according to The Times.

A lawyer hired by L.A. County told The Times that officials had provided dozens of boxes of records and allowed auditors to interview social workers but would not turn over documents they believe are shielded by attorney-client privilege.

“In addition to the county’s established right to protect its communications with its attorneys, the county seeks to preserve its ability to candidly evaluate its child protective services,” attorney Daniel P. Barer wrote in a response to questions from The Times.

While Alameda, Fresno and Sacramento counties have cooperated with similar subpoenas, auditors said they were confronted by “stalling tactics and unyielding refusal” in Los Angeles, The Times reported.

As a result, state officials said they would issue an audit that addresses only the three other counties while they fight for access in Los Angeles.

(©2011 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services contributed to this report.)

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