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Supermom counsels client from maternity bed

Saturday, March 16, 2002

By Barbara White Stack, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

At 10:30 yesterday morning, Common Pleas Judge Kathleen R. Mulligan called West Penn Hospital for an attorney who'd delivered a daughter 26 hours earlier.

It wasn't a social call.

Maegan Susa Filo had volunteered to represent a client from her hospital bed. She explained later, "I just thought it was a case that needed my attention."

Talking through a speaker phone on Mulligan's bench, Filo cross-examined a caseworker and social workers hired to help her client, a 20-year-old mother whose 4-year-old son had been placed in foster care.

All the while, unknown to those in the courtroom, Filo was nursing her newborn, 7-pound, 12-ounce Jaclyn.

It was a case that could have gone either way. The caseworker from Allegheny County's Office of Children, Youth and Families had taken the child from his mother because she found the house in deplorable condition several times after telling the mother to clean it up. And the mother was permitting a man to live there, even though he stole money from her, preventing her from buying food for her son.

The child, born when his mother was 16 and in foster care herself, had been removed and returned several times before.

Filo succeeded in eliciting positive testimony about the mother from two workers with nonprofit agencies CYF hired to work with the mother. One said the mother and son are closely bonded and the mother recently began making progress toward meeting goals the worker set.

The other worker said the mother had resumed mental health treatment and recently seemed to be making progress, even planning for her future.

Mulligan decided to leave the child in foster care and review the case in three months, at which time the court would consider changing the goal for him from reunification with his mother to adoption.

It would not be an easy decision, the judge said. But, she added, "It is not about mom. I am very sympathetic to mom. I understand she is trying. But this is about the child."

Filo didn't get what she wanted, but she felt she'd done what she could so the young woman wouldn't feel abandoned. The mother left the courtroom in tears.

Filo plans to take a maternity leave, but she may be on the phone during that time representing clients occasionally when she feels her touch is necessary.

Her mother-in-law, Mary Jane Filo, was thrilled to see her new granddaughter and she expressed admiration for her daughter-in-law and for all her labors -- that she delivered two babies without pain medication and she returned to work before leaving the hospital.

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