CYFD settles for $340,000 with two whistleblowers in 2020 case

Oct. 26—The state Children, Youth and Families Department has agreed to pay $340,000 to settle a whistleblower lawsuit filed in 2020 by two former employees who said they faced retaliation and were forced out after pushing back on the agency's handling of a high-profile case involving four children.

"We're pleased with the settlement," Benjamin Gubernick, attorney for plaintiffs Ivy Woodward and Kelly Mazy, wrote in an email Monday. "It was a difficult process for our clients, but they do not regret speaking up about the misconduct they observed. They were forced to choose between doing the right thing and keeping their jobs, which should never happen to a state employee. But this settlement illustrates that New Mexico's strong whistleblower protection laws provide a third option."

A CYFD spokesperson noted the embattled agency made no admission of wrongdoing in the settlement.

"Settling a case is often done for many reasons and under these settlements, there are no admissions made," CYFD spokesperson Charlie Moore-Pabst wrote in an email Monday. "While CYFD felt confident in its defense, if the state were to be found liable for even one dollar at trial, the state could be responsible for paying all attorneys' fees throughout the trial."


The state spent about $103,000 fighting the case in court before agreeing to the settlement, according to the General Services Department.

The complaints are tied to a case that began in 2019, when Hobbs police encountered Andrei Christian Ducila, 25, and Luiza Badea, 22, panhandling outside a Walmart with their four children, ranging in age from 3 weeks to 4 years.

The police determined the kids weren't being well cared for and charged the parents with child abuse. CYFD took custody of the children but later returned them to their parents on a trial basis.

When a department caseworker visited the family's apartment in Hobbs on May 2, the family had disappeared, according to a police report.

According to local and national news reports, New Mexico officials later received a call from police in North Carolina that indicated officers there also were seeking Ducila and Badea because they were suspected of leaving one of their children — a girl around 2 years old — at a hospital with head injuries that left her permanently blind.

The U.S. Marshals Office later located the couple and three of their children in Houston, according to news reports.

The complaint alleged CYFD officials returned the children to their parents despite knowing their parents were unfit in an effort to avoid having to deal with the case and obstructed the initial investigation into the family's disappearance, slowing law enforcement's search for the missing children.

The women's complaint was filed under seal at the request of the state agency, but Gubernick said Monday that Woodward and Mazy were retaliated against because they disagreed with the way the agency had handled the case.

In Mazy's case, her attorney said, she was subjected to a hostile workplace after she complained about the way the agency had handled the case. In Woodward's case, he said, she was discharged for refusing to "lie in court about the case."

Mazy had worked at the agency for a decade at the time, according to the department. Woodward had been there about three years.

Gubernick also filed a lawsuit on behalf of the children, who he said remain in foster care in New Mexico. The case is still pending in U.S. District Court.