Just one day after they were charged in the starvation death of their 14-year-old daughter, the parents of Danieal Kelly sued the city for failing to step in and save her.
Yesterday, amid criticism that they were seeking to profit from their child's death, Andrea and Daniel Kelly were dropped from the suit. Their lawyers, Eric Zajac and Brian R. Mildenberg, said the Kellys agreed to be removed as administrators of the estate and to have a trustee appointed instead.
In a statement, the lawyers said that if the parents were convicted of a crime, any money recovered in the lawsuit would go to Danieal Kelly's siblings, "most of whom are impoverished children in foster care."
Danieal Kelly, who suffered from cerebral palsy, wasted away in a squalid West Philadelphia rowhouse while under her mother's care and the supervision of the city's Department of Human Services. She starved to death on a fetid mattress in a stifling room, her body covered with gaping bedsores.
Andrea Kelly was charged with murder on July 31. Daniel Kelly, who authorities say abandoned his daughter despite knowledge of her mother's neglect, was charged with endangering the welfare of a child.
Several caseworkers, who authorities say visited rarely and missed clear signs that the child was in danger, also face criminal charges for their part in a case that a grand jury said amounted to "total meltdown."
Despite the criminal charges, the Kellys sued the city on behalf of their daughter's estate on Aug. 1.
That outraged District Attorney Lynne M. Abraham, who called the suit "astounding."
"The nerve, the gall," she said yesterday. "This is such a perversion of what parents are supposed to be."
Abraham said that by filing a civil suit, the parents opened themselves up to questioning under oath - a prospect she said she relished and would use to advance the case against them.
"I would like to depose her right away," Abraham said, "I could cross-examine her myself for two weeks."
Lawyers for the city and state also criticized the parents.
"Daniel and Andrea Kelly have inverted the maxim in which a child kills his parents and throws himself on the mercy of the court, claiming that he is an orphan," wrote Chief Deputy Attorney General Barry N. Kramer, who represents the state Department of Public Welfare, which oversees DHS.
"It's the definition of chutzpah," Kramer said in an interview.
The lawsuit - filed in federal court in Philadelphia - names the city, its child-welfare agency, the state, and several caseworkers, saying they failed to protect the girl and should pay the family to compensate for its loss.
The suit blames Danieal Kelly's death on caseworkers for DHS and MultiEthnic Behavioral Health Inc., a firm the city hired to provide support to the family.
As a consequence, the suit says, the parents and Danieal Kelly's nine siblings were deprived of her "love, tutelage, companionship, support, comfort and consortium" as well as the "economic value of her life expectancy."
The suit seeks unspecified damages, as well as reimbursement for medical bills, funeral and burial expenses, and attorneys' fees.
In legal filings, lawyers for the city and state called the suit meritless and moved to have it dismissed, saying the child's death was the result of "parental neglect."