HARRISBURG — The U.S. Department of Justice disputes assertions by the Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania that its civil lawsuit alleging state courts violated the Americans with Disabilities Act is invalid.

The Department of Justice filed suit in February against the Unified Judicial System (UJS) on allegations that court officials in Jefferson and Northumberland counties violated the civil rights of three people with opioid use disorder.

According to the lawsuit, county court officials forced the three to stop taking doctor-prescribed addiction medication or risk violating the terms of their court-ordered supervision.

In a letter submitted Friday to U.S. District Court Judge Mitchell Goldberg, Eastern District of Pennsylvania, attorneys with the Department of Justice attack arguments raised by UJS representatives included in a letter to the court submitted April 29 requesting a pre-motion conference.

Justice Department Attorneys David White and Adam Lewis argue that the UJS isn’t shielded by constitutional protections against enforcement of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), as asserted by the defendants.

Excepting one case, the attorneys say all courts considering such enforcement have maintained the U.S. Attorney General’s authority to file suit against state and local government agencies to enforce the ADA.

They also challenged a claim by the UJS that since the cases are more than three years old, the statute of limitations expired.

“The UJS provides the court supervision services and treatment court programs at issue here and has the power to ensure that individuals with (opioid use disorder) are not denied their legally prescribed medication as a condition of participation,” attorneys White and Lewis wrote.

In addition to Jefferson and Northumberland counties, the Department of Justice alleges court officials in six other counties either maintain or have recently discontinued treatment court policies limiting or prohibiting the use of disability-related medications for addiction therapy, such as Suboxone and Subutex.

The six counties are Allegheny, Blair, Butler, Clinton, Delaware and York.

The alleged actions contradict medical research and approved practice, and violate the ADA, according to the Justice Department.

In its late-April letter to the court, attorney Geri Romanello St. Joseph laid out the grounds to dismiss the Department’s lawsuit. In addition to claiming constitutional immunity and challenging legal standing, St. Joseph said the Department failed to determine whether ADA compliance could be had voluntarily and also failed to make a good-faith assertion in its lawsuit that it sought such compliance.

The UJS oversees 60 judicial districts in the state.

“The United States seeks to impugn Pennsylvania’s entire Unified Judicial System, consisting of a diverse collection of court and court-related entities, most of which had nothing to do with Plaintiff’s claims,” St. Joseph wrote.

“The UJS simply is not an organizational entity that can or should be held accountable for supervision of criminal offenders at the local level,” St. Joseph wrote.

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