VENICE — After four days of sometimes fraught argument, attorneys for Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital and the Venice family suing the hospital on Tuesday agreed on a panel of six jurors and six alternates for a civil trial that may last up to two months.
It means that opening statements in the civil jury trial that the Kowalski family have sought for almost five years will begin Thursday.
It took four days of questioning and challenges to whittle the jury pool of roughly 300 down to just 12, with All Children’s attorneys seeking to remove those who have seen the Netflix documentary “Take Care of Maya.” It details how Beata Kowalski took her own life after her then-10-year-old daughter, Maya, was removed by the state and sheltered at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital.
The documentary was among the most watched Netflix movies for several weeks after its June release. The story of how Florida’s child welfare system placed Maya in state custody after the family took her to the All Children’s emergency room made international headlines, with accounts appearing in Rolling Stone, The New York Times, Vanity Fair, the United Kingdom’s Guardian and Independent newspapers and People magazine.
Jurors who had seen the documentary and said it had made them more sympathetic to the Kowalski family were removed in early selection rounds.
But Ethen Shapiro, lead counsel for All Children’s, continued to ask for the removal of potential jurors who have seen the documentary from the final day’s pool of 56, arguing that they were exposed to evidence that would be inadmissible, including hearsay and mention of a child protective medical director for Pinellas and the nonprofit that employed her settling with the Kowalski family for a reported $2.5 million.
Greg Anderson, lead counsel for the Kowalski family, repeatedly challenged those removals. He also questioned why All Children’s attorneys were using their peremptory challenges to remove women from the jury. Of eight challenges, seven were against potential women jurors.
Shapiro responded that Anderson had repeatedly used his challenges to remove men.
The Kowalskis in 2018 sued All Children’s hospital for its role in Maya being removed from her family. Hospital employees twice reported Beata Kowalski to the state’s abuse hotline in 2016 after she demanded doctors give the child a ketamine booster to treat her complex regional pain syndrome, a condition that causes spontaneous and often excessive pain from something as mild as a touch. Doctors were skeptical of the diagnosis and viewed the mother’s objection to a blood pressure cuff being placed on her arm and her daughter undergoing a scan as possible medical child abuse.
Beata Kowalski, who was 43, died by suicide after 87 days without physical contact with her daughter. The family are also seeking punitive damages for battery and false imprisonment.
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During the girl’s stay at the hospital, she was videotaped for 48 hours and, on another occasion, stripped down to her underwear and photographed without the permission of her parents or the dependency court, according to court records. Hospital employees also refused to let Maya’s parents take their daughter to another hospital before the state intervened, according to the lawsuit.
Catherine Bedy, a former All Children’s hospital social worker who took part in the photographing of Maya and was also named as a defendant, was dropped from the lawsuit during jury selection.