Photo illustration by Angie Newsome / Carolina Public Press

The criminal trial for a former North Carolina social services attorney facing 20 felony charges for his role in separating children from their parents without judicial oversight has been delayed a second time.

Scott Lindsay, former attorney for Cherokee County Department of Social Services, was scheduled to face a jury trial in February and then again in July of this year. His is the last criminal case to be heard involving what courts have found to be an unlawful scheme, so much so that individual family cases have, together, led to the county facing more than $53 million in judgments, settlements and fees.

A grand jury in Murphy indicted Lindsay in 2020 on 20 charges of felony obstruction of justice, two misdemeanor counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor and one misdemeanor count of willful failure to discharge duties, all related to a scheme to separate children from their families without judicial oversight. He is now scheduled to appear in September.

Two former DSS office leaders were charged at the same time: David Hughes, the child welfare supervisor, pleaded guilty to two misdemeanors last year as part of a deal with prosecutors and promised to testify in related cases.

Last year, former DSS Director Cindy Palmer pleaded guilty to one count of felony obstruction of justice and was required to perform 24 hours of community service as part of her sentence. Palmer completed that requirement in February, according to the Cherokee County Clerk of Courts Office.

In 2021, a man and his daughter won a $4.6 million federal civil trial against the county for its policies and actions. Earlier this year, Cherokee County settled more than a dozen cases related to this practice for $42 million. 

Lindsay’s attorney, Jerry Townson, successfully argued to have Lindsay’s misdemeanor charges dropped last year. Carolina Public Press’ attempts to reach Townson for comment in July were unsuccessful.

Cherokee County DSS workers separated parents and children using a document judges later called “a product of actual and constructive fraud.” This happened dozens of times over several years, and social workers testified that Lindsay and Palmer ordered them to use a document called a Custody and Visitation Agreement, or CVA.

Only much later did social workers and parents learn the document was made up. Social workers testified that they questioned the legality of the document, only to be assured by Lindsay that the document was legal.

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Kate Martin is lead investigative reporter for Carolina Public Press. Email her at

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  1. Separating children from their parents/care givers does irreversible catastrophic mental damage to children. That study was done by a professor at Harvard University. There’s countless other studies that say the same. So this lady was allowed to damage children this way and received a slap on the wrist? Well it doesn’t sound like their’s much of a deterrent to keep people from committing these mental heath and children’s rights crimes. It sounds as if it makes a difference as to whom commit’s this sort of crime. As to what punishment they receive. Someone on the streets could have done such damage and received a prison sentence. Someone of authority working for the state in charge of children’s well being can commit such a crime and it’s not a big deal? Hum sounds like DSS isn’t the only broken system here.

  2. Great Reporting. But why was Cindy Palmer only given 24 hours community service when as the head she had to sign off on stuff???

  3. Reading about this issue for the first time. It is my humble opinion that this news story is woefully incomplete. Why were these fake CVAs used – what was the result of administering them? How were they implemented? How many families were disrupted and why? How did this get started? Who actually wrote the fake documents? What about repercussions to the County Manager and County Commissioners? Were they unaware of the practice and if not why pdidn’t they know it was happening?