“Remove her from the courtroom,” the judge demanded.
“Judge, she’s very upset with this,” the woman’s attorney began.
“Don’t do it,” Hatch pleaded.
a diminutive blonde known as “Jenny,” learned to read at the age of 6,
has volunteered on political campaigns (always for Republicans) and
once, after finding a job she wanted, showed up repeatedly until she got
it. She also has Down syndrome, an IQ of 52 and tends to shower
affection on strangers as well as friends.
The details of Jenny Hatch’s life
have come under scrutiny in a complicated guardianship case that is
pitting her wishes against those of her parents and testing the rights
of adults with disabilities to choose how they live. The 29-year-old
wants to move in with friends and continue the life she had, working at a
thrift shop and riding her bike everywhere. Her parents want her to
remain in a group home, supervised and protected.
The case, which
began in August and is set to continue this month, has captured the
attention of both major advocacy groups and residents in the Hampton
Roads area, who have turned the phrase “Justice for Jenny” into a
mantra. For many, the legal fight is about not just who Jenny Hatch is
but also whom she represents: anyone born with an intellectual
disability or who ends up with one, through either age or mishap.
is a default assumption that people with intellectual disabilities and
people with mental illness need people to make decisions for them, that
they can’t, with aid, fend for themselves. Which just isn’t true,” said
Jennifer Mathis of the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, one of
several organizations that have expressed interest in the case to the
At that August hearing, Hatch was allowed back into the
courtroom, but she wasn’t permitted to speak. A reporter’s request to
later visit her was denied. Even so, interviews with those who have
spoken with her and an examination of court documents show that in the
months that have passed, she’s been far from silent.
bright pink poster board in Hatch’s boxy, uneven penmanship are the
words: “Bring My Freedom of Choice Back. Bring My Job Back.”
poster hung on Hatch’s bedroom wall at a group home before she gave it
to her attorney. Now, her friend Kelly Morris keeps a picture of it as
proof that Hatch understands what’s at stake.
“She knows what she wants, and she knows exactly how she feels,” Morris said, “and yet everyone disregards her.”
Jenny Hatch wants — according to numerous reports submitted to the
court from the Hampton-Newport News Community Services Board— is to live
with Morris and her fiance, Jim Talbert, in Hampton, Va.
couple met Hatch five years ago when she walked into Village Thrift in
Newport News, one of several businesses they own, placed an application
on the counter and explained why they should hire her. She returned
several times before she got the job organizing 28-cent greeting cards
and clothing racks packed with $3 jeans.
What say you BHM? Should she be allowed out from under her parents custody?