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Child Protectors Defy Court
April 12, 2009 permalink
When a Texas jury ruled that two boys should be returned to their parents, Christopher and Laura Dobbins, what did CPS do? They kept the kids anyway.
Three months after jury decision in custody case, Midlothian couple still waiting for kids to come home
12:00 AM CDT on Sunday, April 12, 2009, By JON NIELSEN / The Dallas Morning News, firstname.lastname@example.org
Three months after a jury decided that Christopher and Laura Dobbins were fit to raise their two children, the couple are still waiting to see them.
What's more, a pending criminal case against the parents could create dueling jury verdicts and disrupt plans for a reunion with their 5- and 7-year-olds. The couple haven't seen their boys since Child Protective Services removed them almost two years ago over abuse allegations.
CPS sought to terminate parental rights, but in a December civil trial, an Ellis County jury disagreed. Despite that 10-2 verdict, an Ellis County assistant district attorney says she's building a criminal case that will show the Dobbinses physically abused one of the boys.
This is a difficult situation for the judge, the jurors, the parents and the children, said Ellen Marrus, a law professor at the University of Houston.
"It would be a little odd to have dueling verdicts," she said. "Normally you have the criminal case, and the CPS case is really the backup. If you can't prove beyond a reasonable doubt, you have a way of safeguarding and protecting the children."
But in this case, the children are in limbo, said Mark Griffith, Laura Dobbins' attorney. Nearly three months after the December trial, Ellis County Court at Law Judge Greg Wilhelm has yet to affirm the jury's verdict.
"I can't do it anymore. It's been too long," Laura Dobbins said through sobs about the separation from her children. "I want to get to know them again. I need them, and I know they need me."
Last month, her attorney filed a rarely used writ of mandamus asking the court of appeals to order Wilhelm to uphold the jury's verdict so the children can go home. The court of appeals' decision is pending. A ruling could come this month.
"It's ridiculous," Griffith said about the criminal charges. "There is no rabbit in the hat to pull out. They threw everything and the kitchen sink in the CPS case, and the jury didn't buy any of it."
When the Dobbinses last saw their younger son, paramedics rushed him to the intensive care unit at Children's Medical Center Dallas. That was May 31, 2007, the day the boy had a seizure in the family's Midlothian home. Doctors found bleeding around the brain, a laceration to the pancreas and two old fractures in his wrists. Physicians suspected abuse and called Child Protective Services.
In June 2007, officials took the boy, then 4, and his 5-year-old stepbrother into protective custody and moved to terminate the parents' rights. Midlothian police later arrested the Dobbinses in their home.
According to court records, the 5-year-old stepbrother told child advocate workers that the parents repeatedly kicked the younger boy in the stomach. The Dobbinses deny any wrongdoing.
According to testimony in the CPS trial, the younger boy suffers from Henoch-Schonlein purpura, a disease that causes the blood vessels to become inflamed. Some of the symptoms the boy had during his hospital stay are similar to those found in a child with HSP.
But that diagnosis is disputed by the state's criminal prosecutor and will become a key topic at trial, said Lindy Tober, Ellis County's assistant district attorney.
"We have no – zero – intentions of dismissing the case," she said.
Laura and Christopher Dobbins each face one count of causing bodily injury to a child and one count of omission. A trial is scheduled in May. If convicted of the first-degree felony, they face up to life in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
It's unclear whether Wilhelm is waiting until the outcome of the criminal trial to determine the children's placement. This is the second writ filed against him in the past eight months for failing to uphold a jury verdict.
The judge declined to comment through his court coordinator.
"It is as if the trial and verdict were merely a 'mock trial' and the judge, through his continued actions that ignore the verdict, is abusing his discretion with no basis in law," according to Griffith's writ.
Those close to the case say both children are doing well in separate homes of extended family members. But learning that the kids were still not home with their parents bothered one juror.
"I'm a little shocked to hear that," Joe Sires of Waxahachie said. "I thought the verdict was the verdict."
According to Sires, jurors in the civil trial didn't know about the criminal charges against the parents when they voted against terminating the parental rights.
"I know there will be 10 of us who will be heartbroken if they are found guilty," Sires said.
According to the writ, Wilhelm has called for a transition plan that includes contact with the boys through a Web camera and telephone calls. But the plan doesn't include a deadline to return them to their parents.
"Justice demands that the trial court abandon its path of ever greater intervention and intrusion," Griffith wrote in the writ. "Any further delay will only serve to intensify the damage caused by the TDFPS [Texas Department of Family and Protective Services] in its failed petition."
Source: Dallas Morning News