Attorneys argued Wednesday that two Denver County child protection workers were not legally responsible for 7-year-old Chandler Grafner’s care after he was placed in the home where he would eventually starve to death.

The two, Margaret Booker and Mary Peagler, face a wrongful death lawsuit in the boy’s death filed by Chandler’s estate and his biological parents. They are appealing a U.S. District judge’s December ruling that while county human services departments enjoy immunity, the lawsuit against the two woman can proceed.Both are still employed by the Denver Department of Human Services.

In Wednesday’s hearing before the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, Robert Wolf, an attorney for Booker and Peagler, said Denver child welfare services was not legally responsible for Chandler’s care because the man Chandler was living with — Jon Phillips, now serving a life sentence for the boy’s death — was not a certified foster parent.

Wolf also argued that Jefferson County Department of Human Services was legally responsible for supervising Chandler’s ongoing case because that agency placed him with Phillips and his girlfriend, Sarah Barry, after he was removed from his mother’s care.

The family moved to Denver shortly after Chandler was placed with them.

Denver child protection workers had Chandler temporarily removed from the home in January 2007, when a teacher reported that the boy’s ear was red and he had marks on his forehead. He was returned to Phillips shortly after with instructions for Phillips to no longer use physical discipline.

The boy died that May of starvation and dehydration. He was 20 pounds underweight and had been living locked ina closet.

In his earlier ruling allowing the suit to proceed against the caseworkers, U.S. District Judge William J. Martinez said their failure to protect the boy “shocked the conscience” and abused the child’s civil rights.

But Wolf argued it was uncertain if Booker and Peagler had access to all of Chandler’s prior interactions with child welfare services. He compared their decision to temporarily remove him from the home to “taking that child out for an ice cream cone.”

At the time of Chandler’s death Peagler was in charge of individual cases and Booker was responsible for investigating claims related to maltreatment and deciding whether further investigation was warranted.

Kyle Bachus, who represents Chandler’s estate and biological parents, said Booker and Peagler had access to all of Chandler’s history in the child welfare system and the case had transferred into Denver’s jurisdiction. As employees of that department, Booker and Peagler were responsible for supervising Chandler’s case and their failure to execute professional judgment prevents them from falling under immunity, Bachus argued.

Jordan Steffen: 303-954-1794, or