[Guest post by DRJ]
This post deals with the first day of testimony in the FLDS temporary child custody hearing. It is based on the live-blog posted by the following reporters with the San Angelo Standard Times:
“Standard-Times reporter Matt Phinney updates the FLDS child custody proceedings in the 51st District Court from the remote location at the City Auditorium, while reporter Sandy Rojas reports from outside the courthouse, and reporter Trish Choate is reporting at large. Jayna Boyle is reporting from Schleicher County.”
The reporters have done an excellent job but there are limitations to what they can do. For instance, this is obviously not based on an official transcript, it has interruptions when a reporter has to leave the area (so parts of the hearing may have been missed), and I don’t believe the reporters are attorneys so his/her summary may not grasp all the legal issues.
Absent an official transcript, the best source is to click the link and read the entire summary for yourself. However, because the website is undoubtedly getting a lot of hits and has been difficult to load and/or was down some of the time, I’ll include the highlights after the fold.
I won’t make any comments below the fold in this post so everything you see past “More” will be from the San Angelo Standard Times’ blog.
Also note that the children have apparently been divided into three or more color-coded groups and the attorneys are also grouped based on those groups. I’m not sure but I think the three groups are young children, teens, and pregnant minors.
From the San Angelo Standard Times:
“10:10 a.m. – All rise. Judge Barbara Walther enters the courtroom.
10:12 a.m. – The judge swears in people who will testify. Child Protective Services recommends that the state maintain temporary custody of the children. CPS asks to obtain DNA samples from adults to match with children.
The first witness is called. Judge Walther tells a woman to take a seat, saying she will not have people jumping up and down and shouting at the court.
10:24 a.m. – The attorney for a woman whose last name is Barlow objects to: lack of notice, the hearing’s format, and failure to meet requirements of the Texas code that entitles each child to a full adversarial hearing.
More attorneys make objections, and Judge Walther asks them to allow the court to get started. She says no perfect solution exists, and the state is required to get started after 14 days.
The judge tells the attorneys their objections are premature.
10:26 a.m. – Men and women from the YFZ Ranch walk into the City Auditorium, take seats in the auditorium and begin watching the hearing.
10:30 a.m. – The judge swears in the first witness, an official from the Texas Department of State Health Services. He is asked about medical records from at least three women. A lull in the proceedings passes, and lawyers in the City Auditorium ask for copies of the court documents before they are submitted as evidence. This promises to be a long process. Attorneys in the City Auditorium want to know how they can make objections from the remote location.
As a practical matter, Walther said she doesn’t want to cut anyone off from looking at the evidence.
When lawyers in the courtroom see the evidence, a bailiff will take it to City Hall, a distance of about two city blocks. Walther said she will step off the bench to give lawyers time to view the evidence. Then they will reconvene.
11 a.m. – The court remains in recess. Attorneys mill about in packs, discussing different topics. Women and men from the YFZ Ranch lean over talking to one another, or sit and watch the scene around them. One man from the ranch sticks his finger to his mouth in a universal sign of “shh” to a group of ranch members across the aisle. The live video feed from the courthouse shows a paused shot of the judge’s bench.
11:05 a.m. – Announcement is made about a list of names so mothers in the court can find the attorneys they need to talk to. Court in recess.
11:32 a.m. – All rise, the judge is back. Several attorneys representing women and children begin making objections based on various laws, and one says negative media could skew the results. Judge Walther replies that this is not a jury trial, and that she won’t be swayed by media attention. Some call into question the way in which the medical records were presented.
12:30 p.m. – Attorneys continue to object, with the constitutional variety of objection taking the lead.
An attorney hammers through a drawn-out soliloquy until the judge asks him to tell her exactly what he’s getting at.
“I’m not sure, judge, that I can do that,” the attorney said.
Laughter ripples among lawyers and observers.
The judge launches into an offensive against the deluge of objections.
“What I’m trying to get at is whether or not these children should be returned to their parents,” she said.
The court hasn’t even been able to get to that, the judge said. Then she explained that this is a “looser procedure.”
“We need to understand the nature of this as a temporary matter,” Walther said.
12:34 [pm] – But the massive proceedings don’t turn on a dime, and another attorney issues an objection regarding freedom of religion.
Walther takes a direct route, saying she isn’t dealing with freedom of religion objections at this point, “but I’ll take it under advisement.”
12:36 [pm]– A Department of Public Safety trooper reads name after name of “husband,” “wife” and children from the bishop’s papers.
For instance, a 28-year-old man is “married” to a 16-year-old girl, and they have a son.
A 46-year-old man is “married” to a 19-year-old woman, but various children are listed with ages from 2 to 19.
12:42 [pm] – When he was done, Walther said that if an attorney represents one of the men named, then he or she can ask questions.
“I know all of the lawyers for the male respondents were listening, and I’ll take the first volunteer,” she said.
Silence ensued for a moment, and then an attorney asked whether her client is listed.
“I don’t believe that’s one of the names that came up,” the DPS officer said.
Walther, trying to keep chaos at bay again, said she has limited questions for now to names the DPS trooper has read.
She asked whether any of the “male respondents’ ” attorneys have a response.
12:55 p.m. The judge recognizes a lawyer.
“This is like an auction,” Walther said. “You scratch your nose, you’re going to get called on. You just bought it.”
A lawyer asked for names on the list to be read again.
“Just like I tell the juries when they ask to have the whole trial read back, y’all got to pay attention,” Walther said.
She still spent the next few minutes helping sort out whether a client’s name was among those read.
1 p.m. – “We are now going to open up to global questions,” Walther announced.
Under questioning, the DPS trooper said he’s reading from a list of names naming “husband” and “wife.”
“But as far as mother-child, there’s just no indication,” he said.
To get things rolling, the judge told the attorneys “to kind of queue up” so they can have their turn at questioning.
A line about 15 deep forms in the auditorium.
2 p.m. – Break for lunch. Will come back at 2:45 p.m.
2:15 p.m. – Outside the courthouse, a television reporter asks William Jessop, who says he is an FLDS member, what he would say to his children. He replies, “Keep sweet and come home.”
3:04 p.m. – The judge walks in, and all rise for a moment. “I believe when we stopped, Mr. was making an objection about something,” Walther says, triggering quiet laughter.
3:09 p.m. – A Child Protective Services supervisor takes the stand. She was one of the primary supervisors assigned to work on the YFZ Ranch case.
About 11:32 p.m. March 29, officials received a report, the supervisor says before an objection cuts her off.
An attorney objects to the CPS supervisor reading from documents if they’re not submitted into evidence. Walther overrules him.
The supervisor continues, saying a 16-year-old at YFZ Ranch reported abuse.
When the department receives a report, it is routed to the appropriate investigator, the supervisor says under questioning from the state.
Concerns came up that this case would be more than one investigator could handle, the supervisor says. A great number of children could be involved.
The normal procedure is to interview every member of a household, the supervisor said.
At first, 12 caseworkers were assigned to go to the YFZ Ranch.
3:20 p.m. – The CPS supervisor continues testimony: She went to the YFZ Ranch about 9 p.m. April 3. The team included herself and at least six investigators or special investigators, as well as two other CPS staff members.
Also along were law enforcement officers, including some from the Schleicher County Sheriff’s Office and the Texas Rangers.
The supervisor asked to come into the compound and discuss reports of abuse.
Law-enforcement officers told ranch residents they were there to see a child named Sarah.
“The men shook their heads and said there were no Sarahs living at the ranch,” the supervisor tells the court.
So the investigators asked to come in and talk to the other children. They noticed a guard tower as tall as the courtroom, the supervisor said.
3:25 [pm] – She saw two men in the guard tower looking down at the CPS investigators and law-enforcement officers, the supervisor testifies. They drove down a long, winding road to get to a two-level schoolhouse.
Merril Jessop, an FLDS leader, opened some classroom doors so she and some of her investigators could interview some of the girls at the ranch, she says. Only five of the investigators were actually allowed onto the ranch.
Each investigator had an interview room to talk to all of the girls who were 17 and younger, the supervisor says.
In 10 or 15 minutes, the girls arrived, she said. Each investigator took a girl into the room to seek information about Sarah and “other things, too.”
“Why were asking about other things,” the state attorney asks.
That’s part of an investigation during a “standard interview,” the supervisor replies. They ask basic questions about daily activities and try to build a rapport.
“We started to get information about some Sarahs,” the supervisor says.
“Some Sarahs? More than one?” the state attorney asks.
“Yes, ma’am,” the supervisor says.
3:50 p.m., TOM GREEN COUNTY COURTHOUSE – The CPS supervisor continues to testify about the raid April 3 on the YFZ Ranch:
The FLDS men bring 15 girls to be interviewed, five at a time by the five investigators. The other girls stay in the waiting room where FLDS men are.
The supervisor begins to hear about various Sarahs.
The supervisor came to the ranch looking for a girl named Sarah who is about 5 feet, 4 inches tall, 16 years old and mother of a baby.
During the interviews, CPS investigators hear about five Sarahs, although two or three could have been the same person, the supervisor said.
It begins to come out that the households generally consist of one man, “the father,” who is a “husband” with several “wives” and father of all the children in the home.
The investigators learn that one Sarah who has been at the ranch is 16 and has a baby, the supervisor said. The girls being interviewed have seen her the past week at the ranch but don’t know where she is.
4:22 p.m. – Back in session. Opens with objection that the CPS supervisor testimony shouldn’t be admitted as evidence.
According to testimony, the CPS investigator began to find 16-year-old mothers with small children and began looking for pregnant teenagers. She found many. Saw a pattern that girls would switch names under testimony and wouldn’t provide full names. They did not, they told her, know their own dates of birth.
Talk goes to girls’ classroom on the ranch. Several girls indicated there were some Sarahs on the ranch, and they went to school with Sarahs. There were no attendance logs in the classrooms. Journals were found in the classrooms.
During questioning at the ranch, some girls said they couldn’t talk about certain things.
“The demeanor I observed from the girls was very closed off. They would say they didn’t want to answer that question,” the witness said.
Some girls would say who the father of the house is. Difficult to tell who is the biological father or father of the household.
Girls talked freely about chores on the ranch and how they pray and what they believe. But as to identifying persons in the home, they couldn’t give specific information or refused to answer.
4:39 p.m. – The CPS worker testifies she asked to see some girls from the ranch, and Merrill Jessop brought a group of girls, but only one was among those requested.
An objection is called out from the City Auditorium, taking a few tries before Judge Walther hears it in the county courthouse.
The CPS worker is asked about the decision to remove the girls and replies that her concern is a global pattern that underage marriage and children having children is permitted.
5:10 p.m. – The decision to remove some children from the ranch came about 3 a.m. Friday (April 4), about six hours after the raid began, the CPS witness testifies.
As I am listening, a policeman comes over and asks me to follow him outside because he thinks the broadband device attached to my laptop computer is a camera. I miss some testimony.
Back in court, the witness is saying that things got “more scary” about 10 a.m. Friday on the ranch. There appeared to be a “situation of a huge magnitude,” with a great many officers around. The girls were not providing information, and they seemed fearful, the witness testified. The women at the ranch were upset and uncooperative at first and said they wouldn’t let the children go. A law enforcement officer then used a speaker phone to have Merrill Jessop, the ranch patriarch, tell the women to cooperate. The women then cooperated, the witness said.
“In any case where we determine children are unsafe, it’s very difficult to remove children from their parents,” the witness said. The witness then says she was surprised at how the women reacted when Merrill Jessop told them to cooperate – he only had to say it once, she says.
Some women continued to cry but helped children leave the school house, she said.
5:24 p.m. – The CPS worker testifies that it was not safe to go house-to-house in the dark looking for children. She says she heard there were men in trees with night-vision goggles. Asked about being afraid, she says men were videotaping her and the children, and men appeared to be posted at every entrance and around the buildings. It’s a feeling of being unsafe, she says.
Law enforcement had begun mobilizing a SWAT team and a tank. Law enforcement, she says, told her, “We are here to keep you safe, and we can’t do that when it’s dark.”
The people from the YFZ Ranch in the auditorium show little emotion as testimony is made.
Merrill Jessop at first was not inclined to cooperate in letting CPS back on the ranch Saturday (April 5) of the raid, the witness says, but Jessop didn’t expressly say they couldn’t enter. The people didn’t present themselves to authorities but were cooperative when CPS was in the homes, the witness said. One girl gave names of 24 children and nine mothers living in her house, the witness recalls. Generally, she says, one or two men live in the homes.
5:32 p.m. – The CPS witness says many children at the compound said they were excited about coming to the YFZ Ranch; many said they came from Arizona and Utah. Later, they told investigators this ranch is Zion, and this is where they want to be, the witness testifies.
Women and children began giving different names when they got to the Schleicher County Civic Center. Lists were made of the people taken to San Angelo. Again, the records from the bus didn’t match up with records from the shelters.
The judge rules that children will be identified by numbers. The CPS witness says one girl said Sarah – the girl who called in the original complaint – does exist. One girl said no age limit exists for girls to get married and have children, the witness says.
Witness said they were told at the gate there were no Sarahs, but workers found several on the ranch.
Witness testifies she determined children younger than 17 had given birth to a child or had conceived children on the ranch.
5:45 p.m. – The investigation revealed teenage pregnancies, the witness says. The mind-set is such, she says, that the young girls believe it is the highest blessing they can have to have children.
An attorney raises objection to that as “gross hearsay” and asks that some of it be stricken from the record. The question is withdrawn, and court continues.
Outside the courthouse, passing motorists slow and gawk, taking photos of the unaccustomed nighttime activity. There are 16 media trucks parked around the courthouse lawn.
There is no indication when today’s session might end.
5:48 p.m. – Court in recess.
6:18 p.m. – Court is back in session.
6:24 p.m. – Judge Walther says she will hear the best objection from each side to corrections made on a document. An attorney says “No objections,” to the applause of the City Auditorium. Discussion centers around children who are pregnant or who gave birth while younger than 17. At least one girl was as young as 13 when she conceived a child, according to testimony. Some girls who are reporting they are adults are likely not adults, according to testimony, and maybe as many as 50 percent of the women who say they are adults are not, according to testimony.
6:35 p.m. – The CPS witness, asked why it’s not safe to return the children to their mothers, replies that adults who live on the ranch believe they aren’t doing anything wrong to their children, that the practice of children having children is part of their culture and belief system.
6:55 p.m. – The CPS supervisor is under fire during cross-examination. A defense attorney representing a father asks the CPS supervisor whether anyone has talked to the father.
No, the CPS supervisor says.
The defense attorney continues to attack, asking whether families that have come forward to say they didn’t live at the ranch can go home.
The CPS supervisor said she doesn’t know of any, and a home would have to be checked out before a child could go to it.
7:05 [pm] – “There are young girls that feel the pinnacle of their existence is to become married at whatever age they’re told and have as many children as they’re told to have,” the CPS supervisor says during questioning from a defense attorney.
But the danger of being sexually abused for those children who are 4 and younger is 10 or 12 years down the road, the defense attorney says.
“What is the danger today for those children?” she said.
The CPS supervisor said the danger is that they’ll grow up in an atmosphere in which sexual abuse of children is accepted.
The judge said she’ll hear from one child’s attorney.
An attorney steps forward and says she represents three “alleged” minors.
She asks the CPS supervisor whether she saw any YFZ men armed.
No, the CPS supervisor says. She confirms that children were swabbed for DNA.
“Were the children’s attorneys informed of the DNA swabbing?” the attorney says.
“I believe so,” the CPS supervisor says, uncertainly.
The CPS supervisor says she was not responsible for the DNA swabbing, which was done for law-enforcement purposes, and she doesn’t know how many children were swabbed.
7:15 p.m. – The CPS supervisor says, under cross-examination, that she can’t recommend any safety situation that would allow any of the children to go back to the ranch.
Another attorney representing parents steps forward to question the CPS supervisor, saying: Don’t these people as a whole look younger than they may actually be?
“I can’t speak to that,” the supervisor says.
Everything grinds to a halt as the question arises as to exactly whom the attorney represents. One of his clients was put on “the disputed list” who was supposed to be 20, he says. “And I wasn’t allowed to see her,” he adds.
He wants to know how many adults the supervisor testifying has spoken with.
She has talked to 15 or 20, she responds.
“What they express is they’ve done nothing wrong,” the CPS supervisor says.
7:25 p.m. – A child’s attorney asks the testifying CPS supervisor whether any of the children had broken bones, injuries or malnutrition that showed up in medical examinations.
“There were some suspected broken bones,” the CPS supervisor said.
The judge asks whether there are any other questions.
Another child’s attorney asks whether the supervisor has identified any male who was 17 or younger and who had sex with a girl 17 or younger.
“I don’t know,” the supervisor replies.
Can you identify any households in which a child was caused serious injury or death? the attorney says.
Yes, the CPS supervisor says.
Four children’s attorneys and one parent’s attorney want to speak from the auditorium, a court official says.
This is a 14-day hearing, the judge said. And questions should relate to its purpose.
An attorney rises up to protest the judge is shutting down questions. The judge notes that is not what she said.
In the auditorium, a child’s attorney tries to zero in on what age the CPS supervisor considers a child “indoctrinated” in a religion that she feels encourages sex abuse.
“It’s just like any other investigation,” she says. “When you find one child that’s a victim in a home, you have concerns for all of them, and the ranch is considered one large home.”
7:46 [pm] – “You know, just because you stand up doesn’t mean you have a right to talk,” the judge tells someone at the courthouse. “I will recognize you.”
An attorney comes forward to speak for all of the girls who are minors with children, asking for the CPS position on them. The department wants to find places together for the mothers and children if possible, the CPS supervisor says.
The attorney wants to know whether the mothers are seen as victims or perpetrators.
“In my investigation at this point, I see them as both,” the CPS supervisor says. “They have been raised – and they are raising their children – in the belief that it will be OK for their children to have babies when they are just adolescents.”
The attorney asks a question about the termination of parental rights.
“Termination is not on the table today, guys,” the judge says.
A boy’s attorney asks about a reference to “children being kept in their rooms and deprived of meals.”
This happened as a form of punishment, the supervisor says, adding that wasn’t a major factor in the children’s removal.
“OK, do we have another one?” the judge said. “And we’re going to try this: Just give us your two best questions.”
7:56 p.m. – An attorney representing four mothers steps forward to say that none of the evidence and pleadings involves her clients and their children.
“Nevertheless, they are detained at the (San Angelo) coliseum,” said the attorney whose firm represents more than 40 mothers.
“There is no mother at the coliseum or at the Wells Fargo Pavilion that is an adult or that everyone agrees is an adult that is detained,” the judge said. “Your clients, the mothers, are not being held by this court.”
“I’m supposed to tell the mother of my 2-year-old that she’s free to go?” the attorney said.
Meanwhile, the child stays.
The sect members in the auditorium applaud loudly as the attorney drives home her point.
“Then if you’re going to take the position these women are being detained, then they can’t stay unless they sign something that says they want to stay,” the judge said.
The attorney continues to press the judge about difficulties, such as access to her clients.
“I have tried to impose some structure on this free-for-all,” the judge said.
Emotions are on edge, she said.
In a perfect world, I could have had one family in front of me today, the judge said. But how could she do that and meet the requirements to have 14-day hearings for all of the children?
The attorney said she’ll get in trouble if she tells her how she could.
8:37 p.m. – The judge returns to the bench.
“I personally am happy to work until midnight,” she said.
But her staff is telling her that’s not a good idea.
She begins to brief attorneys on “the game plan” when a question arises from an attorney.
The upshot of that question is the judge tells lawyers to stay if they’re representing the mother of a child younger than 4 housed at the pavilion or the coliseum – and the mother hasn’t seen that child – and the mother is willing to “take up residence” with her child.
She’s not saying that will be ordered, but the attorneys should stay.
Attorneys can look at documents early Friday at a local church.
The judge will take the bench at 9:30 a.m. Friday.
9 p.m. – The judge finishes up with a final question and leaves the bench.
A San Angelo police officer walks through asking everyone to wrap it up because the building is closing. Few people remain.
Outside, an FLDS woman and man walk into the night.”