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FLDS Judge Defies Law

May 31, 2008 permalink

Judge Barbara Walther yesterday refused to comply with the order of the Texas Supreme Court. Instead of returning the children to their parents, she continued to demand that the parents surrender much of their parental authority before getting their children back. She is also asking for parental identification documents and signatures, something that could entail delay in the case of parents who currently lack identification or are visiting children in distant parts of the state. Below we enclose a news story about the court case, and an editorial from Canada's National Post, showing that worldwide opinion is turning against the Texas child protectors.



FLDS standoff

Meeting on kids' fate gets nowhere

Children's return in doubt as judge fails to vacate her order

By Brooke Adams and Julia Lyon, The Salt Lake Tribune

Article Last Updated: 05/31/2008 01:08:52 AM MDT

Willie Jessop
A dejected Willie Jessop (FLDS spokesman) leaves the Tom Green County Courthouse Friday after Judge Barbara Walther failed to issue a plan to release the children taken into state custody in the April raid on the YFZ ranch. (Trent Nelson/The Salt Lake Tribune)

SAN ANGELO, Texas - Hundreds of children of a polygamous sect were no closer to going home Friday when 51st District Judge Barbara Walther left the bench without abandoning her order keeping them in state custody.

Two higher courts have told Walther to do so.

But the judge abruptly ended a four-hour conference with attorneys after being challenged about changes she made to a negotiated plan to return the FLDS children home.

Before leaving the courtroom, Walther told attorneys to work on an agreement and get it signed by the 38 mothers who appealed her earlier order holding the children in state custody - something that will take days, lawyers said.

That "essentially incarcerates the children and the mothers of our children for another 48 hours," said Laura Shockley, a Dallas attorney, moments after startled lawyers filed out of the Tom Green County Courthouse.

Texas child welfare workers have alleged that the sect promotes marriage between underage girls and older men, and that boys are groomed to continue the practice.

About 450 children taken from the YFZ Ranch, home to members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, remain for now in shelters across Texas.

The children were taken from the YFZ Ranch in Eldorado between April 3 and April 5, based on the state's fear that children were being sexually and physically abused.

"It is a very sad demonstration of the legal system when a judge throws a tantrum and is not willing to sit at the table long enough to resolve the problem of getting little children back home," said Willie Jessop, an FLDS member and spokesman.

Attorneys for parents and the state arrived at the court with an agreement that called for children to be reunited with their parents beginning Monday.

Walther called a recess to allow attorneys to review the deal, but came back an hour later with her own "tweaked" version, which she said would apply to all the FLDS children.

The judge's changes, among others things, asked parents to give state agents around-the-clock access to homes at the YFZ Ranch and to agree to psychological evaluations on the children.

The changes repeat the same "global" claims of wrongdoing rejected by the Texas Supreme Court and Third Court of Appeals in the past week as being unsubstantiated, attorneys said. The modifications, they said, also went beyond reasonable conditions that would allow the state to continue its abuse investigation.

The higher courts ruled that the state's case particularly failed in regard to boys and pre-pubescent girls. Also, DFPS had other alternatives for working with parents to ensure safety while leaving the children in their care, the courts said.

"There is no evidence in the record regarding these people at all," said Julie Balovich, an attorney with Texas Rio- Grande Legal Aid, which represents the mothers who filed the appeal. "There is nothing the court has the ability to enter temporary orders on."

Attorney Gonzalo Rios said the judge's modifications amounted to "bootstrapping" a criminal investigation onto the child welfare case. The Texas Attorney General's Office already has launched a criminal investigation into the abuse claims.

Balovich said TRLA had agreed in "good faith" to conditions in the original deal, such as parenting classes and a 90-day restriction keeping the children in Texas. But "Why does Viola Barlow have to give 24-hour access to her 9-month-old son?" Balovich said later, using one mother represented in the appeal as an example.

The Texas Department of Families and Child Protection was satisfied with the agreement, Balovich said.

Other TRLA attorneys said they could not sign off on Walther's proposal because their clients had not seen it. They asked the judge to simply vacate her order and let the children return home. Some attorneys asked the judge to allow that to begin as soon as Friday, sparing parents who had traveled hundreds of miles to visit children from making a return trip next week.

"Another weekend seems like it would be forever'' for the children, said John Kennedy, an attorney for Legal Aid of Northwest Texas, which also successfully petitioned the appeals court for three mothers.

Walther declined, saying the state still had to work out logistics of how to hand the children back to their parents.

"The last thing any of us wants is for a child to get misplaced in any of this," Walther said.

State attorneys left the courthouse without comment. A spokeswoman later said DFPS would continue to work on a plan "to ensure the prompt and orderly return of the children."

But how that will happen perplexed attorneys. Andrea Sloan, who represents some young mothers, said parents had scattered across the state as they have waited for their children in the past few weeks. Collecting their signatures, as the judge asked, would be incredibly difficult, she said.

"It's not as simple as walking across the street and setting up a booth," Sloan said.,

The original agreement called for:

  • Parents to complete parenting classes and allowed them to negotiate about providers
  • CPS to be allowed to make unannounced home visits between 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
  • Identify all household members
  • Barred the children from leaving Texas for the next 90 days.

Judge Barbara Walther's proposed changes:

  • Stated "only a portion" of her first order was vacated
  • Dropped parents' ability to negotiate on parenting classes
  • Left the children's travel ban open-ended
  • Allowed parents and children to be given psychological evaluations
  • Directed parents to give two-days notice if they traveled more than 60 miles
  • Allowed state officials access to homes at the ranch at all times

Source: Salt Lake Tribune

Who's the real abuser?

National Post Published: Saturday, May 31, 2008

The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints sect that lives on the YFZ Ranch in West Texas strikes us as more than a little odd. But antisocial weirdness was insufficient grounds to justify the seizure of more than 440 children from the ranch nearly two months ago, and even less reason to keep holding those children still. The Texas State Supreme Court was correct, on Thursday, when it decided that the seizure was illegal and ordered the children be returned to their parents.

Texas Child Protective Services (CPS) was wrong in taking most of the children in the first place. There was never any evidence the vast majority were subjected to cruelty. No claims were made that boys were abused, for instance, nor that any child under 13 was a victim. Yet nearly all the children on the ranch between six months and 17 years were forcibly removed.

The ordeal began when a caller telephoned 911 claiming to be a 16-year-old YFZ resident who had been forced into an arranged marriage as a minor and is now pregnant by her abusive 50-year-old husband. Other girls, the caller claims, some as young as 13, are victims of similar mistreatment. The CPS moved quickly to end what it suspected might be widespread cruelty.

But it became apparent quickly that the call--and the other ones like it -- were hoaxes. Rosalita Swinton, a Colorado Springs woman with a history of mental troubles and prank calls, was "Sarah," the supposedly abused 16-year-old mother-to-be.

Unconscionably, the state agency clung to the YFZ children even after these facts were learned. The seizure, based as it was on a sincere belief that young children were being sexually abused and beaten, was one thing. But the refusal of the CPS to admit its mistake is quite another. The CPS now has fought two court orders to return the children to their parents, and appears set to fight a third.

Between the seizure in early April and the first court hearing later that month, CPS officials changed their story from "children had been abused or were at immediate risk of future abuse" to the claim that "a systematic process going on to groom young girls to become brides," and that only immediate action could protect them from "possible future abuse."

Pried from their mothers' arms, kept apart nearly two months, subjected to interrogation sessions, invasive physical examinations, pregnancy tests, DNA tests and complete body x-rays, the Fundamentalist LDS children have been abused by the state in the name of keeping them safe from abuse. No more excuses. The children should be returned now.

Source: National Post


Criterion for cult status Allegation against
FLDS Child Protective Services

Does almost all its business in secret



Raises children on isolated compounds where they are at serious risk of child abuse



Displays a profound bias against African-Americans



Arbitrarily moves children from home to home, reassigning them to different families



Kicks some people out when they are deemed too old, leaving them to fend for themselves on the streets



* They're called "residential treatment centers"

** It's called "aging out"

Source: Richard Wexler blog entry for May 29, 2008