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Press Turning Against CPS
May 26, 2008 permalink
Two items show developing skepticism of the way Texas is handling the FLDS case. Richard Wexler reports that many newspapers outside Texas (but not within) are critical of the seizure of the FLDS children. And lawyers representing the children have accumulated a long list of illegal acts by the child protectors.
UPDATE, MAY 25:
There are signs that the rest of the country may be catching on, at least on the editorial pages. Ever since the appeals court ruling, editorials supporting the ruling and opposing Texas CPS have turned up in the St. Petersburg Times, the Augusta (Ga.) Chronicle, the Wilmington (Del.) News-Journal, the Colorado Springs Gazette, the Kennebec Journal (a very good newspaper in Augusta Maine) and the Paris Post-Intelligencer. (That’s Paris, Tennessee, not France or Texas). Yes, a couple of these newspapers have been all too willing to support the overreach of CPS in their own states, but perhaps this will give them second thoughts.
I have yet to find an editorial favoring CPS outside of Texas since the appeals court issued its ruling. It is a different story in Texas, where, so far the only paper I’ve found favoring the appeals court ruling is the Wichita Falls Times Record News. And Sharon Grigsby, an editorial writer for The Dallas Morning News has publicly dissented from that paper’s support of the take-the-child-and-run approach on the paper’s Opinion Page Blog.
Posted by NATIONAL COALITION FOR CHILD PROTECTION REFORM at 3:30 PM
Source: Richard Wexler blog for May 24, 2008 update of May 25
Houston & Texas News
May 24, 2008, 8:58PM
Lawyers cry foul in FLDS seizures
By MARY FLOOD, Houston Chronicle
Many lawyers for children and parents in a Texas polygamist sect are boiling mad about the growing number of legal errors they claim the state has made in seizing and holding more than 460 children.
From the way officials handled an April anonymous phone tip about a sexually abused girl allegedly at the sect's ranch, the seizure of the children, the court hearings and the questioning of children and parents alike, many attorneys are crying foul.
The lawyers breathed a slight sigh of relief Thursday when some of their cries seemed answered by an Austin appeals court. The 3rd Court of Appeals said the state had no right to seize most of the children and the local trial judge incorrectly left them in the custody of Child Protective Services.
But by Friday, CPS and its umbrella agency asked the Texas Supreme Court to overturn the appeals court decision and leave the children where they are — in foster homes and camps around the state, most far from their home at the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints' Yearning for Zion Ranch in West Texas.
"They have created chaos. They don't know what to do. This case has holes in it the size of the Grand Canyon," said Laura Shockley, a Dallas family law specialist with six clients in the case. "There is no way to fix this."
She and other lawyers say some of the seized people, especially those who it turns out are 18 or older, have potent federal civil rights lawsuits against the state.
Allegations of errors
In papers filed in court and in interviews for this story, lawyers for the children and parents have complained that the state (primarily through CPS, but also through law enforcement and the courts) has made a number of legal errors including:
- Insufficient investigation of the initial tip and tipster.
- Insufficient investigation at the ranch about who was in immediate danger.
- Treating the entire compound as one household, though there were 19 separate residences.
- Taking all children instead of just the post-pubescent girls who could have been subjected to the feared sexual abuse by older men.
- Insufficient evidence presented at the first hearing for the children.
- The hearing should have been for each individual child, not all in one hearing.
- Shifting burden of proof to parents to prove innocence, rather than having CPS prove guilt.
Amy Warr, an Austin appellate specialist who is working on a response to the state's request to the Supreme Court, said she got involved in the case because of how badly the state has handled it.
"The result is a lot of people did not get due process. As a lawyer and a mother I know the reason the Legislature set high standards before the state can take kids," Warr said. She said those standards were not met.
The lawyers complain that CPS was supposed to consider removing only children in immediate danger, not children who might grow up to abuse others. The lawyers said CPS was supposed to explore alternatives before removing any children. The appeals court made those same points.
Patrick Crimmins, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, the primary state agency involved, said Friday that the agency had no comment. But in its request to the high court the agency defended its actions.
"This case is about adult men commanding sex from underage children; about adult women knowingly condoning and allowing sexual abuse of underage children; about the need for the Department to take action under difficult, time-sensitive and unprecedented circumstances to protect children on an emergency basis," states the request to the high court.
Wrong legal standards
The state agency also argued that the appeals court overstepped its bounds and used the wrong legal standards and processes when it told the local court to send some of the children back home.
"It seems likely they initially started trying to do the right thing. But when they proceeded beyond questions limited to young females, or taking young females into custody, they got into real trouble with the law," said Tim Lynch, director of the Washington, D.C.-based Cato Institute's Project on Criminal Justice.
Susan Hays, a Dallas appellate lawyer who is representing a 2-year-old, said this was a "perfect storm legal disaster."
One exacerbating problem, she said, was basic funding. "The state put money into the raid but not into the courts," she said.
She said copies, an overhead projector, enough assistants to be sure children didn't drop through the cracks without representation were all missing, causing children and parents to have their rights abridged. "The courts were dying — in need of resources."
Donna Broom, a South Texas College of Law clinical faculty member who has volunteered to represent a child, said many things are problematic and atypical here, compared to normal CPS cases.
"They normally have to prove the danger is immediate and to show they can't use other reasonable alternatives to removing the child," she said. "Normally, there is more investigation."
She and all the lawyers are in limbo about what will happen next in their cases. Individual hearings scheduled for Tuesday have been postponed as the local judges try to decide what to do next, given the appeals court decision and the pending request of the Supreme Court.
"Every day is a new day in this case. Every attorney is trying to digest what's happened," Broom said.
Source: Houston Chronicle