In a closely-watched case centering on the rights of adults with disabilities, a Virginia woman has won the right to live with her friends rather than in a group home as her parents preferred.
Margaret “Jenny” Hatch, 29, who has Down syndrome, has been fighting for a year to live with her friends, Jim Talbert and Kelly Morris. Hatch previously lived with the couple, but more recently she has been living in a series of group homes against her wishes while under the temporary guardianship of her mother and stepfather.
On Friday, Newport News, Va. Circuit Court Judge David F. Pugh determined that Hatch needed the protection of a guardian, but said he had to take the young woman’s wishes into account. Accordingly, Pugh granted temporary guardianship for one year to Talbert and Morris, reports the Newport News Daily Press. During that time, the couple is to help Hatch become more independent.
“Free at last,” the newspaper reports that Hatch said after the ruling, which paved the way for her to move back in with Talbert and Morris. “I’m going home. I’m so happy to be going home today.”
Hatch’s mother, Julia Ross, was reportedly fighting back tears as she left the courtroom.
Advocates hailed the ruling as a victory for adults with disabilities.
“Like most people with developmental disabilities — and just like all of us — Jenny will learn, grow, and live best when she has the freedom and responsibility to make her own decisions,” Susan Mizner, disability counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement. “Disability is no excuse to deprive someone of her basic civil liberties, and we are thrilled that Jenny will get some control of her life back.”
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