Warren Jeffs’ Texas Compound: Legal Matters
[Guest post by DRJ]
I read three interesting articles today about the Jeffs’ compound. First, the Eldorado, Texas, Sheriff has been working with a confidential informant for 4 years to gain information about the compound:
“A Texas sheriff says he has been working with a confidential informant for four years to get information about life inside a polygamist compound.
The sheriff declined to say whether the informant was in Texas or other sect compounds in Utah or Arizona. But he says it wasn’t until authorities searched the Texas compound that he learned about the beds allegedly used by men for sex with underage girls they had married. The beds were found on the top floor of the temple.
Despite having the informant for four years, state authorities are defending their decision to leave the sect alone during that time. They say the group still has civil rights that are going to be respected.”
Second, according to court affidavits, “one girl, younger than 16, has four children and says she is pregnant again.”
Third, there is this transcript of an interview with Texas officials regarding the physical and legal status of the women and children:
“Here are some questions put Thursday to Marleigh Meisner, spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, the agency now caring for the women and children, and John J. Sampson, a University of Texas law professor who teaches the Children Right’s Clinic, which provides legal representation for abused and neglected children in Travis County.
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: They’ve 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 foreseaable 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.”
There’s more to the interview at the second link.
It sounds to me like the authorities have been watchful of the polygamist compound, while respecting their rights. Obviously it’s a shame that the children there have suffered but the authorities had to have probable cause before they could proceed. And as Professor Sampson notes, this is going to be an unprecedented stadium-size legal case.
NOTE: I edited the title to add the word “Texas” since there are also Jeffs’ compounds in other states.
Related posts here, here, here, and here.