Doctor's suspicion tears apart a Venice family

Maya Kowalski’s only problem when she entered Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital was a severe stomachache. By the time the preteen left the St. Petersburg facility three months later, her condition had deteriorated, her family was shattered and her mother was dead. Under the lead of Dr. Sally Smith, the hospital accused Maya’s mother of a bizarre form of child abuse. The allegation triggered a court-ordered separation that isolated Maya from her family and sent the mother into despair. The ordeal illustrates the power that doctors and hospitals have to strip children from their families based on allegations of child abuse and how the state defers to their judgment. Desperate to end her daughter’s confinement and devastated by their separation, Beata Kowalski, a registered nurse and immigrant from Communist-era Poland, took her own life in January 2017.

Adoption fight pits great-aunt against child welfare worker

Time is ticking for a toddler removed from her family and placed with a child welfare agency employee who wants to adopt her, raising eyebrows among experts and insiders who describe the placement as a blatant conflict of interest. Experts interviewed by the Herald-Tribune say the case is an example of the ethical quandaries rife in the child welfare system and how they play out in secretive adoption proceedings. The result, they said, is a painful and drawn-out process for children who can be irretrievably damaged by the traumatic experience.

Investigation: Getting public records from Port St. Lucie can take citizens, media many months

When it comes to the ease of obtaining public records from the city of Port St. Lucie, the local government is more opaque than transparent, a Treasure Coast Newspapers investigation found. Oftentimes, seemingly routine record requests for a single animal-control report, a traffic study and information on city-employee retirement plans drag on for upwards of three months, the investigation found.

Investigation: Fired Port St. Lucie city attorney splurged on outside legal help

During her brief stint as city attorney, Pam Booker doled out exorbitant amounts of money on outside counsel, spending more than double what her predecessor did on contract legal firms, a  Treasure Coast Newspapers investigation into the city's Legal Department found. In her less than two years as city attorney, Booker authorized nearly $750,000 on outside legal counsel. Roger Orr — her predecessor and city attorney for 23 years — spent roughly $320,000  on similar services.

Investigation: Are officials inadvertently breaking records law online?

Government officials across Florida inadvertently could be breaking state public-records laws by simply using their social media accounts, a USA TODAY Network investigation found. Tweeting about government business and posting to Facebook or Instagram — using either official or personal accounts, regardless of having a disclaimer — without keeping a record of the postings violates Florida's open-records laws, legal experts say. So is deleting posts without archiving copies.