Eldorado, Texas case of FLDS Sect

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Eldorado, Texas case of FLDS Sect

Postby Marina » Sun Apr 06, 2008 8:07 pm



Child welfare officials have 18 children in custody from Texas FLDS ranch; 52 girls removed

An investigation into whether a middle-aged man married a teenage girl spurred the action

By Nate Carlisle and Brooke Adams
The Salt Lake Tribune
Article Last Updated: 04/04/2008 06:35:51 PM MDT


Eighteen of the girls have been taken into state custody, said Patrick Crimmins, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. The other 34 girls were removed from the compound, so they could speak to investigators, Crimmins said.


In general, Crimmins said, children are removed when authorities determine they have been or are at immediate risk of abuse or neglect. He said an illegal marital lifestyle would not be grounds for removal.
The 52 children range in age from 6 months to 17 years, Crimmins said.
"The scale of the investigation I don't think is something that we've done before," Crimmins said.

Last edited by Marina on Sun Apr 06, 2008 8:13 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Postby Marina » Sun Apr 06, 2008 8:09 pm



Update: Judge orders all children out of FLDS compound

The Salt Lake Tribune
Article Last Updated: 04/05/2008 09:58:51 PM MDT

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Postby Marina » Sun Apr 06, 2008 8:17 pm


http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20080407/us_ ... buse_dc_10

Texas officials remove 219 from polygamist ranch
By Ed Stoddard
Sun Apr 6, 8:30 PM ET


"We have now removed 219 people," said Patrick Crimmins, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. He said that the breakdown was 159 boys and girls and 60 adults.

He also said caseworkers were still on the compound conducting their investigations.

"No arrests have been made and we are still trying to find this young woman," Allison Palmer, a local prosecutor from a nearby county handling the case, told Reuters by telephone.

"The young lady made more than one call seeking assistance. She is a young, underage mother with an older husband," she said.


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Postby Marina » Sun Apr 06, 2008 8:31 pm



60 more women leave Texas ranch as search for girl continues
Nearly 220 Jeffs followers removed from Eldorado

By Brian West
Deseret Morning News
Published: Sunday, April 6, 2008 9:45 p.m. MDT

SAN ANGELO, Texas — Sixty FLDS women willingly left a cloistered polygamouspolygamist compound here Sunday to join the now 159 children taken by police and state social workers.
Texas officials can't say why exactly the women agreed to leave the YFZ ranch but said they weren't forced to go and may have left to be with their children.

"I can't really speak for their motivation," said Texas Child Protective Services spokesman Patrick Crimmins. "During the course of our investigation, we've been talking and conducting interviews and we told the women if they wanted to leave the compound, they were free to do so.

"Sixty chose to do so, but I can't say what they were individually thinking."

No adult men have left or been taken from the reclusive ranch, situated near the western Texas prairie town of Eldorado. Sunday evening, The Eldorado Success reported an additional 32 children and nine adults had been transported from the ranch. CPS officials said more people would likely be taken from the compound throughout Sunday but would not confirm new numbers until a press briefing this afternoon.


So far, 18 children have showed signs of "sufficient evidence of possible abuse and neglect," Meisner said. Those 18 will be placed with foster families "that have been located and ID'd."

None of the children, however, had been officially placed as of late Sunday.

Once that evidence of abuse was reported to a judge, the court gave state workers permission to remove the children from the compound in order to be taken to a "neutral location" for briefings, Meisner said.

It's unknown how long the women and children will be held in San Angelo. A judge may be holding a court hearing about the matter today, but that has not been confirmed



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Postby Marina » Sun Apr 06, 2008 8:43 pm


http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/chr ... 74781.html

April 4, 2008, 5:05PM
CPS takes children from polygamists' Texas compound

Copyright 2008 Houston Chronicle Austin Bureau


Gov. Rick Perry's spokesman Robert Black said the governor's office was informed by CPS Tuesday that there would be a raid at the compound by the end of the week.

"There was reason to believe a girl had called in and said she was being raped," Black said. "There also was reason to believe they were heavily armed out there."

Department of Public Safety officers and social workers first went to the secretive group's home Thursday. They spent the night and this morning checking on the children's welfare and questioning people living in the compound.

Members of the sect were "very cooperative," said Tom Vinger, a DPS spokesman.



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Postby Marina » Tue Apr 08, 2008 3:49 pm


http://reporternews.com/news/2008/apr/0 ... _headlines

Abilene staffers helping with children taken in Eldorado raid
By Rebel Taylor
Special to the Reporter-News
Monday, April 7, 2008

Forty staff members from the Abilene office of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services have been assigned to assist in processing paperwork and interviewing hundreds of children removed from an Eldorado compound founded by a polygamist. ..

According to Marleigh Meisner, public information officer with the Department of Family and Protective Services, all 401 children have now been placed in state custody. ..

Texas law requires a judge to determine the need to take a child into custody within 24 hours of removal from the home and then gives investigators 14 days to complete interviews before the next hearing must occur.

"The entire process is overwhelming, and in my 16 years with Family and Protective Services, I have never experienced anything on this magnitude," Meisner said. "We are doing everything we can to make this as easy as possible on these children."...

After receiving affidavits and reports from CPS and the Children's Advocacy Center, a district judge determined the children were in imminent danger and at risk of further abuse or injury, and placed them in legal state custody. Each child will be assigned a guardian ad litem to represent their best interests.

It was unclear Monday if Child Protective Services will be seeking foster homes in the Abilene area for the children.

The next hearing, scheduled for April 17, will determine the next course of action and whether the children need to be placed in long-term foster homes, which could be a challenge for social service providers. In an interview with the Salt Lake Tribune, Debra Brown, executive director of the Children's Advocacy Center for Tom Green County, said there are a limited number of foster homes in the area, and most are full....


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Postby Marina » Wed Apr 09, 2008 7:24 pm



CPS Releases New Information Regarding the FLDS Compound

ELDORADO - Child Protective Services are releasing new information saying the Polygamist compound in Eldorado was rampant with sexual abuse.


CPS says officials have completed removing all 416 children from the ranch -- and have won custody of all of them.

"We've had requests from people wanting to become foster parents



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Postby Marina » Wed Apr 09, 2008 7:28 pm



Foster Families Needed
Featured Videos

Foster Families Needed (4-8-08)

By Sarah Snyder
NewsWest 9

MIDLAND - The 416 children removed from the Eldorado compound are now without homes.

Child Protective Services has asked foster care agencies all over the state to help locate familes who are willing to take up to six children.

One Midland agency says the Permian Basin is short on foster homes for the kids we already have.


One of the challenges for these children out of Eldorado is they have left the only lifestyle they've ever known. Plus, their families are so large they will be spliting from family and friends.



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Postby Marina » Wed Apr 09, 2008 7:34 pm


http://www.washingtontimes.com/apps/pbc ... /152925965

Court documents said a number of teen girls at the 1,700-acre compound were pregnant, and all the children were removed on the grounds that they were in danger of "emotional, physical, and-or sexual abuse." Nearly 140 women left on their own.


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Postby mrsmac » Thu Apr 10, 2008 4:45 pm

http://ap.google.com/article/ALeqM5hJGd ... AD8VV93FO0

What's Next for the Children in Eldorado
By MICHAEL GRACZYK – 2 hours ago

Authorities have removed 416 children from a West Texas polygamist compound in the past week, in response to a 16-year-old girl there who reported that her 50-year-old husband beat and raped her.

The children, and 139 women who voluntarily left the compound near Eldorado, are now housed at two sites in San Angelo, about 40 miles from the ranch and 200 miles west of San Antonio.

Here are some questions put Thursday to Marleigh Meisner, spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, and John J. Sampson, a University of Texas law professor who teaches the Children's Rights Clinic, which provides legal representation for abused and neglected children in Travis County. Sampson is not involved in the case.

Q: What's the next legal step?

MM: April 17, a full adversarial hearing, 10 a.m., in the Tom Green County Courthouse. At that point we will make a recommendation to a judge. There will be attorneys appointed or even perhaps have already have been appointed to represent the children.

Q: For each child individually or as a group?

MM: Normally, it's each child individually but the judge is making a decision how she's going to do that.

JS: You have X number of mothers and Y children and Z number of fathers, presumed fathers, alleged fathers, unknown fathers. All of the fathers are entitled to service. All mothers are entitled to service. All children are entitled to representation.

Q. Sounds like a crowded courtroom.

JS: It would actually be more or less a crowded stadium. I've never seen a case tried in a stadium but this might be a first.

Q: What if the judge decides not to grant custody?

MM: This is all to do with temporary custody. If the judge decided the children needed to be returned, then the children will be returned. It's ultimately always the judge's decision.

JS: (State officials have) already made something of a case to the judge when they convinced the judge we need an order not to investigate but to take possession of the children. This kind of gets into speculation because since this is unprecedented... Since there's smoke here, we suspect fire. And so the court is almost always going to say: 'Yes I realize the statute says the parent should walk out with the child unless it would be dangerous. I've already had a preliminary determination that there's a danger to the child and we've had a hearing there's a danger to the child, and I find there's a continuing danger to the child so naturally the state is going to be continued in the foreseeable future.'

Q. How long is that?

JS: "Foreseeable future" is supposed to be one year. You can get an extension for six months, then the case needs to be decided. Each case is an individual case, however many children there are. I read in the paper there's a whole lot of problems in identification. That does not help the parents get the children back when the children are not identified.

Q: Is it possible the 139 women could be separated from their kids?

MM: That's a decision that's to be made later and it's a decision that's not been made yet.

JS: The reluctance of a parent to cooperate doesn't facilitate the parents' situation. The only time a parent has a chance of prevailing is when they make a case. Now they have a presumption when they make a case that parents have a right to have and raise children, but that presumption is subject to trumping if there is a serious danger to the physical or emotional well-being of the child.

Q: If the judge says the state can't continue temporary custody, will the women be free to go?

MM: They've been free to go always. They came because they asked to come. They've stayed with us but are free at any time to leave. They are here on their own choice.

Q: Have any departed?

MM: To my knowledge, none have left.

Q: Where would they go?

MM: I have no idea.

Q: How much interest have you received from the public regarding foster care or adoption?

MM: Have a lot of people come forward saying: Hey, we'd like to foster these children or we'd like to adopt these children? Yes. However, it's way too soon to be looking at adoption issues. These children are still in temporary care of the state of Texas. What we are doing is to try to find the best temporary accommodations for these children to keep them safe, to make sure that all their medical and emotional needs are being met. And when we go to court on the 17th, a judge will give us further direction as to what needs to happen with these children's lives.

Q: If the women are free to go, is it reasonable to assume they'd be able to function in the real world outside the compound?

MM: I don't think I can address that.

JS: Some people obviously were coerced. The mothers followed their children but they didn't report the child abuse. Those who had reason to believe there was child abuse — and that's also criminal — and to that extent everybody in the whole commune could allegedly be charged with various crimes, including not reporting child abuse.

Q. So just because they're free to go now doesn't absolve them of any future charges?

JS. That is correct. That's for sure... It's an incredible precedent-setting situation, particularly since the last big raid like this was 50 years ago. And that all collapsed legally. The law is a lot more complicated now, and the rights of parents are significantly more protected...
Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ. Galations 6:2

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Postby Marina » Thu Apr 10, 2008 6:45 pm



FLDS mothers say they haven't been able to see, talk with their children
By Nancy Perkins and Brian West
Deseret Morning News
Published: Thursday, April 10, 2008 5:18 p.m. MDT

ELDORADO, Texas — Three mothers of 10 children taken from the Yearning For Zion Ranch by Texas authorities told the Deseret Morning News Thursday that child welfare authorities will not allow them to see or talk to their children.
"I am their biological mother. They will not let me in to see my children," said Monica, a 34-year-old woman with five children ranging in age from 3 to 12 years old.

"They have my children and I don't know why. I have asked to see them and have been told no. I am not going to sit here and let them have my children. I don't know what, but I am going to do something. I am going to see my children."

Monica is one of three women who spoke with the News in separate telephone interviews. All three women, who said they live at the YFZ ranch, which was raided last week by Texas officials, were emotional in sharing their personal details but did not want their full names published. .

All three women said they happened to be gone from the polygamist sect's ranch on the day the raid began. They returned as soon as they heard of the state's actions.

The children of the women are among the 416 FLDS children taken into Texas state custody. Officials say the raid on the ranch in Eldorado was prompted by a phone call to a family shelter by a girl who said she was 16, lived at the ranch and had been forced into a "spiritual marriage" with an older man who beats her.

The girl reportedly asked for help to leave the ranch. Officials say they still don't know if that girl is among those in state custody.
In San Angelo, Texas, where the children are being held in shelters, welfare officials confirmed they are not allowing other family members contact with the children.

"When we removed the children from the ranch there were women there who elected to come at their own free will," Texas Department of Family and Protective Services spokeswoman Marleigh Meisner said Thursday. In fact, 139 women are currently in the makeshift shelters.

Meisner said they are trying to identify any other mothers who are not currently with the children, but it isn't easy to do.

"It is difficult to determine who these mothers are, the ones who are here and ones who may not be," she said. "We are not going to permit any alleged mothers in."

"I came back as soon as I could and my home was raided, my children were gone," said Monica, who added she heard from others that her youngest child may have been taken to the hospital. "I just heard that, but I need to know more. The caretaker that they are with has a cell phone, but they won't let the children call me and they will not let me see my children."

Asked specifically about cell phone contact, Meisner said, "For now, these children are here and until a judge decides otherwise ... they are in our care."

Meisner also said she didn't believe there were any children currently in the hospital.

About a dozen children have "what appears to be chicken pox, which they contracted prior to coming into state custody," according to a news brief from the department.

These children and their families were relocated to another building to separate them from the other children. Officials said they believe the children in the shelters have not been immunized, but some may have natural immunity from having contracted chicken-pox in the past.

Mrs. Johnson, a 30-year-old mother of three children ages 7 and younger, also expressed frustration Thursday at not being allowed to see or talk to her children.

"My children were kidnapped for no reason. They are being held hostage," she said. "I didn't know where they were taken and when I finally found out, (the department of family and protective services) won't let me see them. They won't let them talk to me or let me see them."

Mrs. Johnson said she fears her children are getting sick and are frightened at what has occurred. "They need their mother," she said. "I am a good mother and I want to be with my children."

A third woman, 40-year-old Mrs. Barlow, said she also hasn't been able to see or speak to her children, who are 13 and 9 years old.

"My 9-year-old has allergies and he has to be very careful with what he eats and the level of his activities. His throat can swell up," she said.

"I can't believe this is happening. We tried to get some clothes together for our children, but they won't let us see them. We need to get in there and take care of our children. We just don't know what is going on.

"It's outrageous this is happening in America."

Four doctors, 10 nurses and 25 mental health professionals are on hand at the makeshift shelters and 14 more doctors and medical assistant were expected, the department said.


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Postby Marina » Sat Apr 12, 2008 3:57 am


http://www.elpasotimes.com/ci_8885440?s ... ost_viewed

El Pasoans help to cousel polygamist ranch children
By Erica Molina Johnson / El Paso Times
Article Launched: 04/10/2008 11:21:36 PM MDT

About 45 people from El Paso's office of Family and Protective Services are in Eldorado, Texas, this week helping care for and supervise 416 children removed in the past nine days from a polygamist compound.


"Being the third generation living in that environment or that compound, they (children) are completely brainwashed into that cult environment," Oliva said. "They are going to have to be deprogrammed. These kids don't understand how wrong the abuses are that have been committed against them."


"Because of the stress on the resources within the state of Texas, some of those kids are going to be living in our community and living in foster care here in El Paso and in other communities in the state," she said...


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Postby Marina » Sat Apr 12, 2008 4:01 am


Texas: Custody issues complex
State trying to decide how to place youngsters taken from FLDS ranch
By Julia Lyon
The Salt Lake Tribune
Article Last Updated: 04/11/2008 01:21:10 AM MDT

Parents are attempting to claim some of the children who are in state custody after being removed from a polygamous sect's Texas ranch.
Hopeful parents are showing up at San Angelo facilities where the 416 children are staying and at the town's Child Protective Services office.
"Anybody who is here and says they have a child in our custody now we're taking their information," said Chris Van Deusen, a public information officer with Texas Child Protective Services (CPS).
"We're trying to match that up - it's difficult for us now to verify who goes with whom," he said.
Van Deusen said he could not characterize the number of parents claiming children, and was not aware of any children who had been definitively matched.
The children removed from an Eldorado compound owned by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints are accompanied by 139 women from the ranch. The women are with their children voluntarily and are not under state custody. A hearing on what will become of the children has been scheduled for April 17.
Van Deusen said CPS does not yet have an answer about whether the mothers will be allowed to stay with children if the children are taken in by foster families.
In a typical foster-care case, a mother would be allowed to visit her children once a week. That frequency is at the court's
"This is different enough the court may look at something else," Van Deusen said.
In court filings, state officials have asked a judge to require genetic testing of parents to prove parentage of the children.
They also have said parents should be required to pay support for the time children spend in state custody. ..


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Postby Marina » Sat Apr 12, 2008 4:11 am



Providing for FLDS costing Texas tens of thousands daily
By Brian West
Deseret News
Published: Friday, April 11, 2008 6:07 p.m. MDT

SAN ANGELO, Texas — Child welfare officials said Friday they've been receiving "hundreds of calls," many from FLDS parents whose children were taken from their homes and placed into state custody.
Apart from the 139 mothers and grandmothers who chose to accompany their children and are living with them at the temporary shelters, other mothers or fathers aren't allowed to see them.

"These children are with us because we believe they've been abused or neglected. At this point in time, no one else is going to be visiting those children unless a judge says so," said Marleigh Meisner, spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services.

Many of those hundreds of calls are from relatives of the 416 children taken from Yearning For Zion Ranch. Others are calling to share information or offer assistance, Meisner said.

Judge Barbara Walther this week ordered the children to remain in the San Angelo area so she can continue to have judicial jurisdiction over the case. But providing for their needs is costing tens of thousands of dollars every day.

"My best guess is that we have in excess of 500 people in these response efforts," said Kevin Dinnin, the "incident commander" at the two makeshift shelters here.

His job is to provide meals, water, showers, restroom facilities, toiletries, security, medical facilities, transportation, toys and supplies — "things we think will make life better for them in the shelter."
Each agency determines its own costs, but he saids his incident management team is burning through nearly $30,000 each day.

Inside the shelters, Dinnin said, they have tried to keep family members together when possible and even set up a "guys" room for those older boys who want to be together. He said he has received many gracious compliments from the FLDS people.

"I have felt a great deal, frankly, of appreciation from the guests toward me and I'm not referring to their circumstances in the past," he said. "Particularly with the food, they've basically said 'thank you for your care' and that's very rewarding to me."

Dinnin said workers have adapted a menu to include "what they would like to eat."

As for the unique clothing needs of the members of the Fundamentalist LDS Church, Dinnen said they are allowing the "guests" to send out their clothing to be laundered. If new clothes are needed, he admits the long, unique dresses the women and girls typically wear present a challenge, but he insists Texas is up to the task.

"We as an agency believe we should provide the guests whatever clothing they request," he said. "If they want black socks, I want the children to have black socks.

Children living on the ranch are home schooled and he has asked education and child welfare officials to make recommendations about their education needs.

Although no TVs or newspapers are inside the facilities, he said the group does have access to telephones.

Several children believed to have the chicken pox are being kept together in a separate facility until they are no longer contagious, he said.

"The women, of course, have been very helpful in caring for their children," Dinnen said.

Asked by a reporter about the parenting skills of the group, Dinnen said that was not something he's qualfied to determine.

"Certainly their customs are different from what our general society's customs are. It's obvious that from my opinion there is certainly an effort as any mother would to care for their child in some way shape or form. I really can't evaluate their parental skills."

The first clue of what next happens to the children will be determined Thursday, during a hearing before Walther. She approved the search warrants and ordered the removal of all children from the 1,700-acre ranch. If she decides any or all of the children should remain in state custody, Meisner said that's when they'll begin to look for "appropriate foster homes" in Texas.

"We want the children to know that even though they may not have been safe in the past, they are going to be safe as long as they're with us," she said Friday.

As for the 16-year-old girl who called a hotline to report she was being sexually and physically abused at the ranch, child welfare officials still have not identified her. "It's been an unbelievable task figuring out the identities of these victims," Meisner said.

"Their names change frequently and many have the same name."

Dinnen said while the children would certainly all like to go home, he believes they're doing well.

"I think anyone that has to relocate from where they normally live wants to go home, because it's home. I think that's normal. Under the circumstances , these folks are as happy in their environment as they can possibly be."


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Postby Marina » Sat Apr 12, 2008 6:46 pm


http://www.law.com/jsp/article.jsp?id=1 ... s=newswire

Polygamist Compound Removal Cases to Test Texas Civil Justice System
John Council
Texas Lawyer
April 14, 2008

Tom Vick is looking for about 100 lawyers willing to volunteer for what likely is the biggest family law case in Texas history.

Their mission will be to represent hundreds of children recently removed by Child Protective Services from a secretive polygamist compound in West Texas.

The removal petitions CPS filed on April 7 will test the state's civil justice system in an unprecedented way because of the sheer volume of litigants, five family lawyers say.

As of Texas Lawyer's presstime on April 10, CPS had filed 123 separate removal petitions in the 51st District Court, one of which is In the Interest of 330 Children From the YFZ Ranch, says Dean Rucker, presiding judge of the 7th Administrative Judicial Region, which includes Schleicher County. That's where the "Yearning for Zion" ranch of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) is located.

Vick, a partner in Weatherford, Texas' Vick Carney & Smith, is one player in a statewide effort to prepare for the unwieldy litigation that includes the State Bar of Texas, the Office of Court Administration, the Texas Supreme Court and the Texas Legislature. Those state entities are finding volunteer lawyers to serve as ad litems for the children, training the ad litems on how to represent children, equipping a district clerk's office to handle a large volume of motions and providing emergency funding necessary to handle the many removal petitions.

The Department of Public Safety began a search of the many buildings on the FLDS' Eldorado, Texas, compound on April 3 after a 16-year-old girl there called a local family violence shelter to report that her 50-year-old husband allegedly beat and raped her. The girl was 15, and her husband was 49, at the time of their "spiritual marriage," as alleged in YFZ Ranch.

Gerry Goldstein, a partner in San Antonio's Goldstein, Goldstein & Hilley who represents leaders of the FLDS church in connection with the search warrant at the ranch, did not return a telephone call seeking comment before presstime.

By last week CPS officials had removed more than 400 children from the compound and placed them in state custody, housing them in a historic fort in neighboring Tom Green County.

Gary Banks, managing attorney for the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services in San Angelo who filed the CPS removal petitions, did not return a telephone call seeking comment before presstime.

The Texas Family Code requires that a district court hold a hearing within 14 days after CPS removes a child from a home. In what is known as a "14-day hearing" or an "adversary hearing" to establish temporary managing conservatorship of a child, the state must show why the child should not be returned to his or her parents. The hearing in YFZ Ranch is scheduled for April 17 in 51st District Judge Barbara Walther's San Angelo, Texas, courtroom. Walther's jurisdiction includes Schleicher, Tom Green, Coke, Irion and Sterling Counties.

Vick is seeking the names, addresses and phone numbers of family lawyers willing to volunteer as ad litems in the CPS removal actions. The case is so large that the 120 lawyers in San Angelo, the city with the most attorneys near tiny Eldorado, can't possibly handle it, Vick says.

Vick serves on the Access to Justice Commission, which was created by the Texas Supreme Court to address the legal needs of the poor. Vick says he began gathering the names of lawyers at the request of Emily Jones, the executive director of the commission.

"The court's not ready to appoint lawyers yet," says Vick, a member of the State Bar of Texas board of directors and a former chairman of the Bar's Family Law Section. "We're just trying to amass an army, so when we're called upon we'll be ready to do the job."

On April 9, Vick started making phone calls and sent e-mails to 30 family lawyers around the state, asking if they're willing to serve as ad litems for the FLDS children. So far the response has been heartening, he says.

"Every one of the lawyers I've talked to about this, all family lawyers, they have said, 'Yes, I'll help.' And not one of them have asked if they're going to get paid," Vick says. "It's a real tribute to them actually."

While Vick gathers the names, addresses and phone numbers of lawyers willing to serve as ad litems, Legal Aid of Northwest Texas is providing lawyers for the indigent parents in the case, Vick says.

Jesse Gaines, CEO of Legal Aid of Northwest Texas, did not return a telephone call seeking comment before presstime.

Rucker says the local judiciary is gearing up for the massive litigation.

"Certainly it's a historic and monumental undertaking," Rucker says. "But the judicial branch is being responsive to the need for resources at the local level to handle the cases."

It is Rucker's job as presiding judge of the region to appoint jurists to hear cases for a variety of reasons. He's not sure at this point whether Walther will need help adjudicating the removal cases. Walther did not return a telephone call seeking comment.

"It will be a challenge -- very difficult but not impossible" for Walther to handle the removal cases by herself, Rucker says. "A lot of that will be determined once the adversary hearing occurs and the judge has a better grasp on the breadth of the litigation."


Two years ago, the Texas Supreme Court created the Permanent Judicial Commission for Children, Youth & Families to improve how the judicial system treats abused and neglected children. Commission members will have their work cut out for them with the FLDS removal cases.

"Thank goodness we had a structure in place," says Texas Supreme Court Justice Harriet O'Neill, chairwoman of the commission. The commission studies how to improve child protection in Texas and oversees funding to help courts better deal with abused and neglected children.

Last week, O'Neill sent commission staff member Carl Reynolds, executive director of the Office of Court Administration, to West Texas to help the Schleicher County district clerk's office process the numerous court documents being filed related to the removal petitions. Rucker, vice chairman of the commission, also sent commission member John Specia, a former Bexar County state district judge, to West Texas to assess the county's judicial needs. Specia did not return a telephone call seeking comment.

While there are thousands of family lawyers in Texas, not all of them have ad litem experience. The Texas Family Code requires that lawyers have continuing legal education training before they represent children as ad litems in family court cases.

O'Neill says she is looking into obtaining federal grant money to fund training sessions for lawyers on how to handle the ad litem issues in the FLDS removal cases and is working with the University of Texas School of Law's Children's Rights Clinic to help provide the training. O'Neill expects that a video of the training sessions will be posted on the State Bar's Web site. Jack Sampson, director of the clinic, says a three-hour training session was to be held in San Angelo on April 11, after Texas Lawyer's presstime.

Removal cases "are in our courts in Texas every day. And our courts don't have the resources we need," O'Neill says. "And this [the FLDS removal cases] just emphasizes and highlights the importance of these courts and what they do."

Reynolds say Schleicher County's small district clerk's office is not equipped to handle the volume of motions expected to be filed related to the FLDS removal cases. So he's working on an agreement between Schleicher and Tom Green counties so that the Tom Green County district clerk's office can process all of the motions related to the litigation.

"Tom Green County has e-filing, and Schleicher County does not, and we need a special agreement to make that work," Reynolds says.

Several family lawyers say the FLDS removal cases will present numerous challenges and difficult legal issues.

Lawyers will first need to determine who the biological parents of the children are -- a daunting task in cases involving a polygamist sect, Vick says, that will involve more than interviewing the children and adults who live at the compound.

"They won't know because the kids don't know, because they are raised communally," says Toby Goodman, a family lawyer and partner in Arlington's Goodman & Clark. "So they are going to have to do DNA testing."

In family law cases judges typically appoint attorneys to serve jointly as guardians ad litem, who represent the wishes of the children in court, and as attorneys at litem, who represent the children's best interests, says Christina Melton Crain, a Dallas solo who does ad litem work.

The next difficult issue for lawyers who accept ad litem appointments is balancing a child's wishes against a child's best interests, says Christine Tharp, a San Antonio family law solo who has volunteered to serve as an ad litem in the removal cases. Because CPS alleges in the removal petitions that some minor teenagers entered into "spiritual marriages" in the isolated compound and had children, those teenagers may not know that the marriages were illegal, Tharp says.

The Texas Family Code does not recognize "spiritual marriages," two family law experts say. A parent can't consent to the marriage of a child under age 16, and Texas does not recognize the common-law marriages of children under age 18.

"Suppose you have a mother that's 13 ... . They are home-schooled. They have no media, no radio, no nothing," Tharp says. The children may not realize they're being abused by adults.

"There could be a conflict if you have a 16-year-old child that wants to go back to their old life. You have a duty to represent the best interests of your client," Tharp says. "You do what's best for them, but there's a different layer of advocacy that can be involving."

Professor Sampson, who teaches family law at the UT law school, says the ad litems also must determine if the children are mature enough to make decisions about their own best interests.

"Where the pinch comes is: When is the client old enough to determine that? The lawyer has to determine whether the child is competent," Sampson says. "The lawyer is bound to follow the client's objectives, unless the lawyer determines the child is too young. You can substitute your own judgment. That could be at 2, 5, 7, 8 or 10. It's the lawyer's choice."

The Texas Family Code does not specify an age for when a child can make decisions about his or her own best interests, Sampson says.

That's why it's going to be best for experienced family lawyers to volunteer to represent kids in the FLDS removal cases, says Barbara Nunneley of Hurst, Texas' Nunneley Family Law Center. Nunneley, president-elect of the Texas Chapter of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, is asking members of her group to help.

"Experience is important here. If these kids have been removed from their parents for no statutory reasons, they need to be returned," Nunneley says. "We're asking our membership of 200 lawyers in Texas to take time out of their schedules and accept the representation of a child. We certainly welcome other lawyers too, but the issues are complex, and we're going to have to have some pretty skilled family trial lawyers for these kids."

The removal cases will also prove difficult for Walther, the only district court judge who serves Schleicher County, Goodman says. Under the Texas Family Code, Walther can't transfer the cases to another district court even if she wants to, Goodman says. Rucker says other judges in Tom Green County have agreed to take over Walther's caseload while she handles the FLDS removal cases.

"The Family Code gives a court exclusive continuing jurisdiction based on the residency of the child/parent. Well, in this case, all of these kids and their parents resided in Schleicher County," says Goodman, who helped rewrite the Family Code when he served as a state representative in the Texas Legislature.

"So under the Family Code there's only one court who has jurisdiction over those cases and these kids, and that's the district court in Schleicher County," he says. "The only way you can transfer from one court to another is if the child has been removed and has been gone for six months."

But Goodman doesn't see six-month transfers happening in the FLDS removal cases, because they would be akin to forcibly detaining children for the sole purpose of court transfers, which wouldn't make sense, he says.

The next worry for Walther will be to resolve the removal cases quickly, several family lawyers say. Once CPS files a removal case with the court, the clock starts ticking, and if the case is not completed within a year, or 18 months in some cases, the child must be returned to the parents, according to the Family Code.

"Under the law, once a termination case is filed it has to be tried within a certain amount of time or it has to be dismissed," Tharp says. "That is going to be an administrative nightmare on its own."

If parents oppose their child's removal, that will add to the litigation time, says Brad LaMorgese, a family law associate with McCurley Orisinger McCurley Nelson & Downing in Dallas. In the removal cases, LaMorgese expects FLDS parents to argue the issue of religious freedom and raising their children as they see fit. Criminal defense lawyers representing the compound's leaders have said the search of the compound is akin to a raid on The Vatican.

The potential for freedom-of-religion claims in the removal cases makes Hiram Sasser, director of litigation for the Plano, Texas-based Liberty Legal Institute, shudder. Sasser's nonprofit group represents a variety of organizations in religious freedom cases.

Sasser fears that some of the parents may try to "use religious freedom as a shield and a reason why the children should remain in their care and custody."

"And if courts are not careful, they are going to create a lot of bad precedent for other religious freedom cases," Sasser says. "What we would ask the court is to see through bogus religious claims. Don't let it be."


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Postby Marina » Sat Apr 12, 2008 6:53 pm


http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/200 ... htm?csp=34

Texas polygamous sect encouraged fear

By Jennifer Dobner, Associated Press
SAN ANGELO, Texas — Texas child welfare officials have brought in mental health professionals and behavioral experts as the agency tries to ensure a sense of normalcy for the more than 400 children removed from a polygamous sect's enclave, an agency spokeswoman said...


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Postby Marina » Sat Apr 12, 2008 7:15 pm


http://abclocal.go.com/ktrk/story?secti ... id=6076869

Polygamy kids may end up in foster care

Saturday, April 12

SAN ANGELO, TX -- Hundreds of children taken from a polygamous compound in Texas could be put into foster homes, a potentially huge adjustment for children raised in the isolated religious sect, a state Child Protective Services spokeswoman said today. ..

On Friday, court documents revealed that the Texas Rangers had seized hundreds of photographs, documents and computers during their raid on the compound. ..

Many of the documents, which were listed in more than 70 pages of court records, appear designed to help police determine the confusing family structures within the secretive compound, where authorities suspect young girls were sexually abused as child brides.
Those documents include birth records, family histories, numerous photo albums, family journals and personal diaries...

Court records indicate that despite being isolated from what they called the "outsiders' world," members of the Yearning for Zion Ranch owned dozens of laptops, cell phones and thumb drives, which authorities confiscated. ..

At times it appeared as if the police had simply cleaned out the closets at the compound, taking away men's ties, shoes and belts; about 80 sets of white suits or white women's clothing; and "clothing belonging to Grandmother Ruth Jeffs." ...

"There is an obvious question as to whether the police had information before April or why the police did not try to establish those facts over the long course of their apparent relationship with this informant," he said. ...


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Postby Marina » Sun Apr 13, 2008 3:36 pm


http://www.dailycomet.com/article/20080 ... /804130562

Published Sunday, April 13, 2008

Sect Mothers Appeal to Texas Governor

Associated Press Writer

SAN ANGELO, Texas The mothers of children removed from a polygamous sect's ranch in West Texas after an abuse allegation are appealing to Gov. Rick Perry for help, saying some of their children have become sick and even required hospitalization.

In the letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press, the mothers from the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints also say children are "horrified" by physical examinations they have undergone while in state custody.

The mothers said the letter was mailed Saturday. Perry spokesman Robert Black said Sunday that he had not seen the letter and couldn't comment.

Some 416 children were rounded up and placed in temporary custody 11 days ago after a domestic violence hot line recorded a complaint from a 16-year-old girl. She said she was physically and sexually abused by her 50-year-old husband.

The one-page letter, signed by three women who claim they represent others, says about 15 mothers were away from the property when their children were removed.

"We were contacted and told our homes had been raided, our children taken away with no explanation, and because of law enforcement blockade preventing entering or leaving the ranch, we were unable to get to our homes and had no-where to go," it said. "As of Wednesday, April 9, 2008, we have been permitted to return to our empty, ransacked homes, heartsick and lonely."

The mothers said they want Perry to examine the conditions in which the removed children have been placed.

"You would be appalled," the letter said. "Many of our children have become sick as a result of the conditions they have been placed in. Some have even had to be taken to the hospital. Our innocent children are continually being questioned on things they know nothing about. The physical examinations were horrifying to the children. The exposure to these conditions is traumatizing them."

Asked about claims that children were hospitalized, state Child Protective Services spokeswoman Marissa Gonzalez said she had not seen the letter and would have to review it before commenting.

A judge will decide this week whether the children will remain in state custody or return to their families. Hearings are scheduled for Monday and Thursday.

On Sunday, state officials enforced a judge's order to confiscate the cell phones of the women and children removed from the ranch.

The order was sought by attorneys ad litem for 18 FLDS girls in the state's custody, Gonzalez said.

Reading from the court document, Gonzalez said attorneys reasoned that cutting off communications would "prevent the possible tampering of witnesses."

It was unclear how many phones were taken Sunday. Gonzalez did not know whether the document could be released.

Affidavits filed by child protection workers said they found a pattern of abuse at the Yearning for Zion ranch in Eldorado, about 45 miles south of San Angelo.

The 1,700-acre fenced ranch, a former game preserve, was bought by the FLDS in 2003. A number of large dormitory-style homes have been built, along with a small medical center, a cheese factory, a rock quarry, a water treatment plant and a towering, white limestone temple.

The children are being housed in San Angelo's historic Fort Concho and at the nearby Wells Fargo pavilion. About 140 women from the ranch are also with the children, although they are not in state custody.

On Saturday, five FLDS women staying at the fort told Salt Lake City's Deseret News that the temporary shelter is cramped - cots, cribs and play pens are lined up side by side - and that many of the children are frightened.

Authorities said they have not yet located the teenage mother whose call for help triggered the raid at the ranch.

Texas authorities have issued an arrest warrant for the alleged husband, a man identified as Dale Barlow of Colorado City, Ariz., one of two communities on the Utah-Arizona border that have been the traditional home base of the secretive church.

Texas Rangers met with Barlow and his probation officer in St. George, Utah, on Saturday but did not arrest him. Barlow is serving three years' probation after pleading no contest to sexual misconduct with a minor - a teenager to whom he was spiritually married.

"As for Mr. Barlow, we are continuing to look into whether we have a warrant on the correct person," said Tela Mange, spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Public Safety. "Until we are able to locate and talk with the complainant it will be difficult for us to know for certain the correct identity of the alleged suspect."

The sect practices polygamy in arranged marriage that often pair underage girls with older men. The faith believes the practice will brings glorification in heaven. The mainstream Mormon church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, does not practice polygamy.


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Postby Marina » Sun Apr 13, 2008 4:04 pm


http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent ... 9.html?npc

Raid of polygamist compound delivers daunting task for Child Protective Services

12:00 AM CDT on Sunday, April 13, 2008
By EMILY RAMSHAW and ROBERT T. GARRETT / The Dallas Morning News

Caseworkers, attorneys and guardians responsible for the hundreds of children removed from a West Texas polygamist compound last week are now grasping the reality of their workload – hundreds of painstaking interviews, thousands of pages of records and an ever-growing sense that they may be in over their heads...

The agency dramatically increased the number of investigators on staff in recent years...

The foster care system has been troubled in recent years. The state has had problems overseeing private placement agencies and finding enough beds for children removed from their birth parents...

And advocates fear that putting another 416 children into foster homes will mean other youth aren't removed from dangerous settings. Roy Block, former president of the Texas Foster Family Association, said that in his 18 years as a foster parent, he's seen that happen every time foster beds are scarce.

"You can just look at the charts: When there are capacity issues, there are less children removed," said Mr. Block...

Last year, lawmakers poured an extra $91 million into the department, approving the hiring of nearly 1,100 people to help fix foster care. ..

But CPS' reputation has suffered, as has its employee morale. Last year, more than 40 percent of investigators quit. The vacancy rate for CPS investigators in Dallas County in January was 43 percent, said Ms. McClure, the child welfare advocate. ...

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Postby Marina » Sun Apr 13, 2008 7:23 pm


http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/chr ... 96448.html

April 12, 2008, 11:35PM
Next in the polygamist sect raid, a legal marathon
416 children will need lawyers, then judges to hear their cases

San Antonio Express-news

Jeffs' attorney says Eldorado tip may have been hoax
Rangers talk to man, 50, accused of abuse in ranch raid
A look inside the polygamists' compound ELDORADO — In seeking permanent custody of hundreds of children removed last week from the West Texas compound of a polygamist sect, child welfare officials are ripping open a Pandora's box of legal and logistical issues.

First looms the inevitable collision between the state's duty to protect Texas children from abuse and the constitutional rights already being raised by sect lawyers — religious liberty and freedom from unreasonable search and seizure.

On a more mundane level, but no less important, will be enormous courtroom management problems from hundreds of cases triggered by the unprecedented Child Protective Services action.

"There is plenty of authority in the family code to kick in the door if you have a credible report of abuse," said Jack Sampson, a family law expert at the University of Texas School of Law in Austin.

But terminating parental rights requires a far greater burden of proof than needed to raid the compound and temporarily remove children from an allegedly abusive situation, he said.

And each child will need at least one lawyer.

"You won't just need a hundred lawyers to represent the children," Sampson said. "You'll need dozens of judges if the state is going to try these cases."

"And things can get very sticky for the lawyers for the children who are teenagers and say they want to go home," he said.

Efforts already are under way to recruit lawyers to represent the 416 children in state custody in San Angelo.

"In the last 24 hours I've been contacting lawyers around the state. It's estimated we'll need 75 to 100 lawyers to go out there and volunteer to represent these children," said Tom Vick, a family law practitioner in Weatherford.

"The lawyer is charged with interviewing the child and the witnesses, and taking a good look at the entire situation and then advocating what is in the child's best interest. And sometimes it's at odds with Child Protective Services, the parents, everybody," he said.

When members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints arrived in Texas from Utah and Arizona in 2003, allegations of young girls being forced to marry much older men soon followed.

The raid on the compound was prompted by phone calls in late March from a 16-year-old girl who described being the seventh wife a 50-year-old man who beat and raped her. Authorities ended up removing every child from the compound outside Eldorado.

Before they received the girl's calls, officials said, they had no grounds to intervene.

Beginning April 3, dozens of officers searched the compound for six days, seizing cell phones and computers, and eventually forced their way into the massive alabaster temple while sect members prayed inside.

In court filings seeking termination of parental rights, CPS officials now say just being born into the sect ensures child abuse, describing "a widespread pattern and practice ... in which young, minor female residents are conditioned to expect and accept sexual activity with adult men at the ranch upon being spiritually married to them."

The state says it now has evidence that every child was either abused or at imminent risk of abuse.

Sect lawyers have filed pleadings claiming the comprehensive searches of the 1,700-acre compound violated First and Fourth Amendment protections as well as the Texas Constitution.

"The FLDS and its congregants enjoy the right under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution to exercise their religion and to assemble unhampered by government intrusion," wrote Cynthia Orr, complaining that the searches were intrusive, overly broad and were misrepresented to the judge who approved them.

But it's unlikely Orr's objections will prevail, one expert said.

"There are religious liberties issues here, but none that a judge is likely to take seriously: Laws about polygamy and underage sex apply to everyone. There is no right to an exemption for a religious group," said Douglas Laycock, a professor emeritus at the UT law school.

The gravity and breadth of the allegations make it likely the state will get some leeway in presenting its case, he said.

"Searching a whole community for one girl is not normal, but no other group presents this kind of issue," Laycock said. "They were probably stretching probable cause to the limits, but my guess is the court will uphold it. If those allegations of coerced sex turn out to be true and commonplace, the religious liberty issue becomes pretty frivolous."

Convincing juries or judges that life within the sect constituted child abuse "wouldn't be that difficult if the reports are based on facts," said Sampson, the family law expert. "But the mechanics of holding scores of trials in rural West Texas is virtually incomprehensible."

And because of the complexities of severing parental rights and the likelihood that sect children will resist being removed, the state's attempt at wholesale custody may falter.

Some of the parents, especially if they can be criminally charged, will lose their children, Sampson said.

"But the whole shooting match? Taking all the kids away? I just don't see it," he added.

The raid and mass removal of children in rural Schleicher County mirrors a government action taken five decades ago far to the west that backfired badly on authorities.

In 1953, Arizona Gov. Howard Pyle sent in more than 150 troopers and police in a pre-dawn raid on the polygamist community known as Short Creek on the Arizona-Utah border. More than 120 men and women were arrested, and some 260 children were removed.

Pyle's justification? Forced marriages involving teenage girls to older men.

"Here is a community unalterably dedicated to the wicked theory that every maturing child should be forced into the bondage of multiple wifehood with men of all ages for the sole purpose of producing more children to be reared to become more chattels of this totally lawless enterprise," he said.

But the raid proved a fiasco. News coverage described families torn apart. Pyle was later voted out of office, and all the polygamists who had been arrested — and their children — returned to Short Creek.

Some here wonder whether the Schleicher County raid will have a similar outcome. Texans also are reminded of a more recent confrontation between the state and a religious sect.

Houston lawyer Dick DeGuerin represented Branch Davidian leader David Koresh in a 1993 federal siege of his compound that ended in fiery tragedy, with 160 people killed, including scores of children.

To DeGuerin, the Eldorado raid is another example of government overreach.

"It's like Alice in Wonderland, off with their heads! And then we'll have a trial," he said. "It's the classic case of arrest first and investigate later. They took 500 people away from their homes to a makeshift prison without any evidence they've done anything wrong."

"Child abuse is a bad thing. We need to police it and punish it, when there is evidence it happened," he said. "But you can't just say, 'These are fundamentalist Mormons, they believe in polygamy, and therefore we'll arrest them all and find out if they've been doing it.' That's not what America is all about."


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Postby Marina » Tue Apr 15, 2008 3:43 pm



Hundreds of attorneys expected for polygamous kids' custody case
By Brooke Adams
The Salt Lake Tribune
Article Last Updated: 04/14/2008 11:52:17 AM MDT

SAN ANGELO, Texas -- Some three-dozen guardian ad litem attorneys attended a scheduling session today for the upcoming custody hearing concerning 416 children taken from the FLDS polygamous ranch in nearby Eldorado.
And that is just the beginning of the influx of lawyers expected for Thursday's proceedings at the Tom Green County Courthouse. Court officials estimate about 300 attorneys will be arriving in the Texas town to unravel the complicated fates of the children taken from the ranch since an April 1 raid.
Texas law officers raided the compound of the secretive Fundamentalist Latter-day Saints sect after receiving a 9-1-1 call from a so-far unidentified teen-age bride. She claimed she had been abused by her polygamist husband.
A representative of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services told Judge Barbara Walther this morning that the state plans to handle all 416 children as a single case. Evidence has surfaced that there had been a systematic process at the YFZ Ranch of sexually exploiting and abusing children, the state maintains.
The judge also was advised that determining parentage of the children could prove difficult, since the sect's adults have been providing inconsistent and inaccurate information.
Four of the parents, meanwhile, have hired attorney Andrea Sloan to represent them,
though no other parental lawyers seem to have been retained so far. The FLDS sect has obtained its own legal counsel.
The judge says she will issue a notice informing FLDS parents of their right to legal representation, and encouraging them to work with Texas State Bar to obtain it.
The task ahead, logistically, is daunting, Walther added. "If we give everyone five minutes that would [still] be 70 hours of testimony," she said, adding she would seek some way to efficiently manage that aspect of Thursday's proceedings.
"We need to handle these cases as individual cases because we're dealing with individual families," the judge added. "We need to recognize that, and the court wants to respect that."
Walther appointed two coordinating guardian ad litems -- Randall Stout and Carmen Dusek -- to help make that happen.
After a break, attorneys discussed how to break the large number of women and children into smaller working groups.
Dusek suggested these groupings: mothers who are ages 12 to 17; teenage girls who are not mothers in the same age range; girls and boys ages 5 to 11, in two separate gender groups; boys and girls from birth to age 4, again in separate groups; and children with special needs.
One current problem: there are 20 to 30 women who claim to be adults over age 18 but are not believed by the state.
"Some of these women are providing birth certificates and IDs and are being told they are lying," said Criselda Paz from Legal Aid of North Texas.
"We have had extensive problems and complications with regard to the age of these women," Dusek said, suggesting a special master be appointed to resove each case.
Stout said women and adults have changed the names they are giving officials, and younger children are being passed from adult to adult.
He suggested creating a medical file with photographs for each child, so children can be identified regardless of what name they give or who is providing their care.
Tim Hargrove, an attorney representing the interest of parents, said handling the interests of adult women "en masse" raises serious constitional issues.
He and other attorneys asked who will question witnesses; what time limits will exist; and how adults will speak with attorneys when cell phones have been confiscated and the women have been told if they leave, they cannot return.
Gary Banks, representing state child welfare officials, said the state will try to pare down its witness list and will set up a phone bank and videoconferencing for interested teens and adults at the two shelters.
The judge said she was aware that holding a single hearing on Thursday for all of the involved children and adults raises constitutional issues, and she said she is still considering how to proceed. As for managing the large number of parties, she said: "Quite frankly, I'm not sure how were going to do it."
She thanked the many attorneys helping with the effort: "I'm so proud of Texas lawyers today."
After the hearing, Rod Parker, a Salt Lake City attorney representing the FLDS families, says the women at the shelters are afraid to leave because they have been told they will not be allowed to return.
"I think they feel at this point that the system is biased against them and that they are not being able to present their side of the story," said Parker.
Parker said he doesn't see how the state can handle the planned Thursday hearing en masse. The state would like to put forward one case as representing everyone, but is required by law to deal with each family individually, Parker said. The parents involved are entitled to due process at the hearing, he said.
"Just because there are logistical issues doesn't mean [the state] can violate the rights of 500 women and children," Parker said.
When asked whether he thought the initial call from the 16-year-old was a hoax, Parker replied there seems to be a "serious indication" it could have been.
"That is very serious issue if this call ends up to be a hoax," he said.
In a related development, the Texas Supreme Court today was holding an emergency session to consider Walther's request for electronic filing of proceedings in the custody case.


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Postby Marina » Tue Apr 15, 2008 3:56 pm


http://gosanangelo.com/news/2008/apr/14 ... _headlines

Attorneys raise concerns about FLDS child-custody cases
By Paul A. Anthony (Contact)
Originally published 10:26 a.m., April 14, 2008
Updated 01:06 p.m., April 14, 2008

Attorneys unleashed a litany of concerns this morning about how 51st District court will handle what is likely the most challenging case its ever received. The attorneys questioned the constitutionality of a state proposal that hearings for all 416 children be conducted en masse and alleged that adult women sequestered at Fort Concho have been told they will not be allowed back into the complex if they leave, even to talk to an attorney.

State authorities were not immediately available to respond to the concerns.

The concerns, initially expressed by local attorney Theodore A. Hargrove III, were echoed by Rod Parker, a former attorney for the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints who is serving as a spokesman for FLDS parents, after the informal meeting this morning between 51st District Judge Barbara Walther and nearly three dozen attorneys in the complex child-custody case.

"I don't see how this can be resolved by Thursday," when the first custody hearing is scheduled, Parker said. "I'm sure the court appreciates the issues."

Hargrove read a list of concerns on behalf of attorneys representing the adult mothers housed at Fort Concho.

Among them: The constitutionality of a state proposal that an evidentiary hearing be done en masse, allegations that the women have been tacitly discouraged from visiting with attorneys for fear of being barred from returning to the fort, and persistent problems with as many as 30 young women who have children but whose age - and whether they are adults - is uncertain.

"The adult women's attorneys don't feel en masse is the way this should be done," Hargrove told Walther. "Constitutionally, there are a lot of problems with due process."

Attorneys and Tom Green County court officials began the arduous process this morning of determining the logistics of the largest child-removal case in state history.

Child Protective Services attorney Gary Banks said the state wants to have at least the evidence portion of the case en masse, something Walther did not immediately reject.

"If I give everybody five minutes, that would be 70 hours of testimony," Walther told the attorneys, whose numbers filled the jury box and more than half of cavernous Courtroom A in the Tom Green County Courthouse. "There's got to be a more efficient way to do that."

Walther has appointed two San Angelo attorneys - Carmen Dusek and Randol Stout - as coordinators for the horde of appointed ad litem attorneys for the 416 boys and girls in the temporary custody of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services.

Hundreds of attorneys from across the state are expected to arrive in San Angelo in the coming days, creating a hotel-room shortage. For Wednesday night alone, about 300 are seeking a place to stay.

Other steps also have been taken in the unique case, Walther indicated.

The Tom Green County and Schleicher County district clerks have formed an agreement to allow paperwork to be filed in either court and transferred, while the Texas Supreme Court is meeting in emergency session to consider a request from Walther to allow electronic filing in her court, in the hope that such a move could mitigate the tens of thousands of pages of paperwork expected in the massive case.

The case arises out of a raid launched April 3 by the state's Child Protective Services agency on the YFZ Ranch northeast of Eldorado, run by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Over the next week, the state removed 416 children and obtained temporary custody of them, alleging a "pervasive pattern and practice" of forced underage marriage and sexual abuse.


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Postby Marina » Tue Apr 15, 2008 6:20 pm



Children moved from fort after mothers complain to governor

SAN ANGELO, Texas -- Child welfare officials moved 416 children seized in a raid on a West Texas polygamist compound to a new shelter Monday after some mothers complained to the governor about conditions that were making the children sick

Rows of white buses filled with children who belong to the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Chris of Latter Day Saints _ a renegade Mormon sect that is believed to practice polygamy with underage girls _ were seen leaving the historic Fort Concho, where they had been held since being taken from their ranch in Eldorado earlier this month.

Mothers of some of the children wrote to Gov. Rick Perry this weekend, saying the children were getting sick in the crowded conditions. The children were taken from the shelter earlier this month on suspicion that they were being physically and sexually abused by older members of polygamist group.

"We're in the process of moving all of the shelter residents to another location," said Marleigh Meisner, a spokeswoman for state Children's Protective Services.

Meisner said Perry's office had been in touch with CPS. She declined to give further details.

Earlier, a court began laying the groundwork Monday to sort out the custody arrangements for hundreds of young children seized from a polygamist sect, with nearly four dozen lawyers seeking to represent the children in attendance.

State District Judge Barbara Walther held the hearing to prepare for Thursday's expected marathon session, when the state will plea for permanent custody of the children.

Gary Banks, a lawyer representing the state Children's Protective Services, told the judge the state believes "there is a systematic process at the ranch near Eldorado at which children were exploited and sexually abused."

The children were rounded up and placed in temporary custody in a raid that began April 3 after a domestic violence hot line recorded a complaint from a 16-year-old girl. She said she was physically and sexually abused by her 50-year-old husband.

Walther was clearly struggling with how to organize what is believed to be the largest child-custody hearing in Texas history, and perhaps in the nation. Texas bar officials say more than 350 attorneys from across the state have volunteered to represent the children for free. Child welfare laws require each child in state custody to have an attorney.

"If I gave everybody five minutes, that would be 70 hours," Walther said, stressing a need for efficiency as well as the protection of the children's rights.

In the letter to Perry, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press, the mothers claim some of their children have become sick and even required hospitalization. They also say children have been questioned about things they know nothing about since they were placed in the legal custody of the state.

The one-page letter, signed by three women who claim they represent others, says about 15 mothers were away from the property when their children were removed. The mothers said they want Perry to examine the conditions in which the removed children have been placed.

"You would be appalled," the letter said. "Many of our children have become sick as a result of the conditions they have been placed in. Some have even had to be taken to the hospital. Our innocent children are continually being questioned on things they know nothing about. The physical examinations were horrifying to the children. The exposure to these conditions is traumatizing them."

Perry spokesman Robert Black said Monday that the letter hadn't yet arrived. Black also said the governor was being briefed daily on the situation but didn't plan to interfere with the work of state child welfare or law enforcement agencies.

Asked about claims that children were hospitalized, state Child Protective Services spokeswoman Marissa Gonzalez said she had not seen the letter and would have to review it before commenting. Officials have said that about a dozen children had chicken pox and that others needed prescription medications but hadn't said whether any were hospitalized.

The children are being housed in the fort and at the nearby Wells Fargo pavilion. About 140 women from the ranch are also with the children, although they are not in state custody.

On Saturday, five FLDS women staying at the fort told Salt Lake City's Deseret News that the temporary shelter is cramped _ cots, cribs and play pens are lined up side by side _ and that many of the children are frightened.

An FLDS member who told the AP that his family members are among those inside the fort called the removal of phones a punishment.

"This was nothing more than retaliation of CPS to punish those who were disclosing what is really happening behind that wall of this concentration camp," said Don, who asked that only his first name be used because of the custody hearings.

Affidavits filed by child protection workers said they found a pattern of abuse at the Yearning for Zion ranch in Eldorado, about 45 miles south of San Angelo.

The 1,700-acre fenced ranch, a former game preserve, was bought by the FLDS in 2003. A number of large dormitory-style homes have been built, along with a small medical center, a cheese factory, a rock quarry, a water treatment plant and a towering, white limestone temple.

The FLDS practices polygamy in arranged marriage that often pair underage girls with older men. The faith believes the practice will brings glorification in heaven. The mainstream Mormon church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, does not practice polygamy.


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Postby Marina » Tue Apr 15, 2008 6:32 pm



'In the best interest of these children'
Texas officials defend polygamous moms' separation from kids
By Kristen Moulton
The Salt Lake Tribune
Article Last Updated: 04/15/2008 03:47:25 PM MDT

Posted: 2:35 PM- SAN ANGELO, Texas -

Marleigh Meisner, spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, this afternoon defended the state's decision Monday to separate mothers from older children from the YFZ Ranch who are in state custody.
"This was in the best interest of these children," Meisner said at a press conference this afternoon.
It was also in the best interest of the Child Protective Services investigators who are trying to determine whether the children were physically or sexually abused or were witnesses to such abuse, she said.
"We believe that children who are victims of abuse or neglect, and particularly victims at the hands of their parents, are certainly going to feel safer when they don't have a parent there coaching them."
Meisner said child therapists and the guardians ad litem for the children agreed it was best for the mothers not to remain with the children.
She said that while the children were sad to see their mothers leave, they seem to have recovered. She said she saw some of the kids playing kickball with Texas Highway Patrol troopers.
Eighty-two mothers of children four and under remain with their children at the San Angelo Coliseum. Fifty-one women returned to the YFZ ranch 45 miles south of here, and six, Meisner said, chose to be taken to a "safe
FLDS women said that place is a San Angelo domestic violence shelter.
Two Texas legislators who spoke at this afternoon's press conference said the state will come up with the resources for the massive action against the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
Rep. Drew Darby said Texas takes child protection seriously. Referring to Texas' motto "Don't Mess with Texas," he said, "I'm going to change that up. I'm going to say, don't mess with the children of Texas."


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Postby Marina » Tue Apr 15, 2008 6:41 pm



Posted on Tue, Apr. 15, 2008

Images show police well armed for raid on polygamist retreat
By JENNIFER DOBNER Associated Press Writers

SAN ANGELO, Texas -- Police wore body armor, toted automatic weapons and were backed by an armored personnel carrier for a raid on a West Texas polygamist retreat, photos and video released Tuesday show.

Four still photos and a slice of video were released to The Associated Press by Rod Parker, spokesman for the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, which owns the raided Yearning for Zion Ranch near San Angelo in Eldorado.

Sect members took the photos and video during the first few days of a seven-day raid that involved police agencies from six counties, the Texas Rangers, the state highway patrol and wildlife officers. Authorities were looking for a teenage girl who had reported being abused by her 50-year-old husband.

A sect member whose wife shot the video said sect members got the impression that state officials "were doing something more than they said they were going to do." The man declined to give his name for fear that speaking out would cause problems for his children, who are in state custody.

Tela Mange, a state Department of Public Safety spokeswoman, said officers are trained to protect themselves.

"Whenever we serve a search warrant, no matter where or when, we are always as prepared as possible so we can ensure the operational safety of the officers serving the warrant, as well as the safety of those who are on the property in question," Mange said.

The armored car was precautionary and designed to remove someone from the property, not to force entry onto the ranch, she said.

Parker said rumors have circulated since the 1950s that the FLDS would respond with violence to threats on their way of life. "It's never been substantiated at all. Nobody who knows these people could possibly believe that," he said.

"It's not in their nature," he said.

Parker said that if there was any suggeston that the FLDS would respond to police with violence, there would have been a cache of firearms found during the raid. "Instead they responded by singing and praying," he said.

While there were hunting rifles at the ranch, search warrants filed in district court in Tom Green County don't show that police seized any weapons.

Eldorado is about 200 miles southeast of Waco, where federal authorities tried to arrest Branch Davidian leader David Koresh for stockpiling guns and explosives in 1993. Four federal agents and six members of Koresh's sect died in the shootout that ensued. After a 51-day standoff, Koresh and nearly 80 followers died in an inferno that the government says was set by the Davidians but that survivors say started when authorities fired tear gas rounds into their compound.

Law enforcement surrounded the FLDS ranch April 3, carrying a warrant seeking a 16-year-old girl who claimed she was trapped inside the church retreat and had been beaten and raped by her husband. The search also revealed that a soaring white limestone temple at the ranch held a bed where officials believe underage girls were required to consummate their spiritual marriages to much older men.

More than 400 children - all of whom lived in the large, dormitory-style log homes - were seized in the raid on suspicion they were being sexually and physically abused. They are being held in the San Angelo Coliseum and are awaiting a massive court hearing Thursday that will begin to determine their fate.

FLDS members carefully documented the raid in notes, video and still pictures of police and child protection workers talking with families, but much of that material was seized when police executed one of two search warrants on the ranch, Parker said.

"We've known from a little bit of experience to document it and prepare to have that presented in court or wherever it's to our benefit," said the FLDS member who declined to give his name. Law enforcement in Arizona and Utah raided FLDS sites in 1935, 1944 and 1953.

The 416 children held by Texas authorities had been accompanied by 139 women until Monday, when officials ordered all the women away except for those whose children are under 5.

The mothers have complained the state deceived them, revealing the plan only after they and their children boarded buses from historic Fort Concho, where they had been staying, to the larger San Angelo Coliseum. State officials defended that decision Tuesday.

Texas Children's Protective Services spokeswoman Marleigh Meisner said officials decided that children are more truthful in interviews about possible abuse if their parents are not around.

"I can tell you we believe the children who are victims of abuse or neglect, and particularly victims at the hands of their own parents, certainly are going to feel safer to tell their story when they don't have a parent there that's coaching them with how to respond," Meisner said.

Meisner said child welfare officials still can't find birth certificates for many of the children, making parentage and age determinations impossible. She said many of the children don't know who their parents are and many have the same last name but may or may not be related.

"It's a difficult process," she said.

Officials have yet to identify the 16-year-old whose call for help to a Texas domestic violence hotline triggered the raid.

About three dozen of the women who returned to the Eldorado ranch spoke out Monday. They said in interviews that police surrounded them Monday and gave them a choice between returning home or relocating to a women's shelter.

"It just feels like someone is trying to hurt us," said Paula, 38, who like other members of the sect declined to give her full name. "I do not understand how they can do this when they don't have a for sure knowledge that anyone has abused these children."

The renegade Mormon sect is led by Warren Jeffs, who was convicted last year in Utah of being an accomplice to rape and is awaiting trial in Arizona on similar charges.

A company founded and run by members of the church received more than $1.1 million in government contracts between 2003-2007, a federal online database shows. Most of that money was spent by the Department of Defense on aircraft wheel and brake parts.

NewEra Manufacturing's president and CEO is John Wayman, a sect member who runs the Las Vegas business. NewEra was previously known as Western Precision Inc. and based in Hildale, Utah, where thousands of church members live.

In a 2005 affidavit filed with a Utah lawsuit, former church member and Western Precision worker John Nielsen said workers were underpaid or not paid at all for work they did because they were told their time and earnings were being donated to the church.


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