Patterico's Pontifications


Warren Jeffs’ Texas Compound: Legal Matters

Filed under: Civil Liberties,Current Events,Law — DRJ @ 7:01 pm

[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.


38 Responses to “Warren Jeffs’ Texas Compound: Legal Matters”

  1. If the mothers (supposed mothers?) were not to show up, would they later be able to see their children, and would they later be able to regain custody? I ask not to snark, but because I really do not know.

    htom (412a17)

  2. htom,

    The law prefers parents to be with their children so even if they lose custody temporarily, there is a possibility they could regain custody at some future point. (I think that’s especially true with the teen mothers, who aren’t responsible for their plight but also aren’t well-equipped to be mothers. How is a 15-year-old with 5 children going to manage?)

    In the meantime, I think courts would be open to the possibility of visitation rights.

    However, none of this applies if a court terminates their parental rights. When that happens, I don’t think there is any possibility of visitation or regaining custody in the future.

    DRJ (a431ca)

  3. …. I am still a bit sick about this.

    I got a fairly good roundup of information in my post:
    but I’m still dang impressed at the amount of information y’all manage to find.

    Hopefully this will work out alright.

    Foxfier (74f1c8)

  4. there’s something fishy about the story that’s coming out, but i don’t know enough to put my finger right on the problem.

    who is the 16-year old who made the triggering phone complaint, and why can’t they find her? speculation has been stoked that she was offed, but there’s no evidence to support this. i assume these calls were taped, but that doesn’t preclude the possibility of any young girl, such as a relative of law enforcement personnel, calling on a fictitious, pretextual basis.

    why hasn’t dale barlow, the 50-year old man alleged to have forced the young girl into marriage and sex, been taken into custody? supposedly he’s on probation in arizona. don’t they know where he is, or do they just don’t care? if i forced an underage teen into marriage and sired two kids off her, i’d be in a heap of trouble. probable cause for the raid warrant = probable cause for an arrest.

    the sheriff had an informant in the cult for four years, but only learned several days ago that illegal marriages were being consummated in the temple bed. was he just too stupid to ask the right questions, or did his story get ahead of the facts in order to justify further state intervention and control?

    happy for no casualties so far, hope the mothers get to walk out of the courthouse with their kids. awaiting further titillating details that finally add up.

    assistant devil's advocate (91fa0f)

  5. For obvious reasons, the legal aspects of this interests me and right now it’s a practical problem. There are 416 children who need lawyers and guardians, and the teen mothers will need 2 lawyers – one to protect their rights as children and one to protect their interests as mothers. The guardians will probably be social workers and abuse counselors, while the attorneys will be practicing, licensed attorneys. I doubt there are even 400 attorneys in the entire region of San Angelo, Sonora, Eldorado, Ozona, etc., let alone family law attorneys.

    Here’s my guess as to what is happening right now in the Texas legal community:

    >> The State Bar is contacting every board-certified family law attorney in Texas with a suggestion that they get ready to go to San Angelo for orientation at a designated time;

    >> Texas law schools are donating every family law professor, lecturer, and clinic to work on this virtually full-time for the foreseeable future (apparently that’s already happened with the UTexas Law School, since this interview included Texas Professor John Sampson);

    >> Larger law firm are being asked to donate paralegals, support staff, resources, and attorneys to work on this case; and

    >> Support personnel and resources for the Tom Green court and clerk’s office are being provided by other Texas courts, including the Texas Supreme Court.

    As to the parties, my guess is that many of these children have similar interests and can be represented by the same attorney. Even if that’s true, they will still need dozens up to a couple of hundred attorneys. Some will get paid but most will be expected to represent their clients pro bono, e.g. free. At this point, I would be surprised if those attorneys receive more than reimbursement of expenses, if that. (And, if you don’t already know it, getting to San Angelo is no easy feat unless you live nearby – which, by Texas standards, means within 200 miles.) And the area motels will be at capacity and maximum room rates for some time.

    DRJ (a431ca)

  6. I have a feeling the 911 call from the 16 year-old was totally bogus.

    Wesson (785f2a)

  7. ADA,

    I don’t see anything fishy so far, but that doesn’t mean something won’t develop. My guess is the girl and possibly her child were taken out of the compound after she made her last phone call. (I think she recanted because she had been discovered on the phone.) Her report of abuse was enough to justify probable cause for a search but not enough to execute an arrest warrant against Barlow, so until they find the girl and can interrogate her, there isn’t anything they can do about Barlow.

    DRJ (a431ca)

  8. ADA and Wesson,

    It could have been a bogus call but there has been concern about this compound for 4 years – that’s why the local Sheriff was working with an informant, although I suspect the informant was in another Jeffs’ sect and not in the Eldorado compound because the informant did not know about the temple beds. If they wanted to manufacture a reason to go in, why didn’t they do it 1-2-3 or 4 years ago?

    DRJ (a431ca)

  9. Foxfier, I’m right there, too – this is sickening.

    ADA brought up the same question I had re the informant – how could he not know any sort of sexual abuse was happening to the young girls at the compound? It doesn’t make sense. How did he explain young girls ending up pregant and with several children? Not to mention their ‘husbands’ being middle aged men…

    Dana (d00b6b)

  10. Dana,

    I doubt the informant was at the Eldorado compound full-time, if at all. I think it was an informant at one of the other FDLS compounds, perhaps in Arizona or Utah. Here’s why I think that:

    First, the reports do not say the informant was in this compound. In fact, they are very careful not to say that, e.g., from the first link in the above post:

    “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.”

    Second, the first link above also states that the informant did not know (and thus the Sheriff did not know) about the beds in the temple before this search.

    Third, the Texas compound is reportedly the only FDLS compound that has beds in the temple.

    Fourth, the local authorities have been concerned about this compound since it was built. If they had informant information about forced marriage and underage sex, I think they would have acted before now.

    DRJ (a431ca)

  11. In Illinois, the “childrens’ attorney” would be the guardian at litem and he and his assistants can “represent” any number of children. Thousands in Cook County at any time.

    The parents, both the mother and the putative father, are entitled to counsel. Private if they can afford it, appointed if they cannot. They will need to swear in pauperis affidavits for the later.

    Fourth Amendment probable cause is not required to “search and seize” in a case of child abuse or neglect. The authorities can intervene under the parens patriae power. No exclusionary rule nonsense about violating the parents’ right to privacy to abuse their child.

    “Probable cause” in child abuse or neglect proceedings is not Fourth Amendment probable cause. It is Grand Jury type probable cause i.e. is there probable cause to fear for the child’s well-being if left in his present state of custody. That determination is made after the child has been taken away from his parents.

    nk (6b7d4f)

  12. NK,

    I’ve served as a guardian ad litem and I suspect Texas procedure is similar to what you describe in Illinois. Nevertheless, I read that each child in this case will have both a guardian ad litem and an attorney ad litem. I guess it’s possible both will be attorneys but that seems unlikely to me.

    As to one attorney representing multiple children, I’m sure that will happen but they can’t have conflicting interests. The fact that there may be overlapping parents or unidentifiable parents gives me pause that a few attorneys can represent all of them.

    DRJ (a431ca)

  13. DRJ – I should explain myself. Perhaps one of the many well-meaning doctors or nurses, who couldn’t tolerate the obviousness of this junk anymore, arranged the call. Some electricians and carpenters had to be in there and known what was going on too. People talk. I can see the Sheriff as not especially interested in having a high threshold of credibility in 911 calls about that place. The problem is the mystery surrounding the 911 call is the most interesting part of those press conferences.

    Wesson (785f2a)

  14. Fair points, DRJ, however, whether at El Dorado compound or Arizona City, or where, it still would not explain – if he were actually in the compounds – how he could not notice so many young girls pregnant and/or with babies.

    Dana (d00b6b)

  15. Wesson,

    Steve brought this up last night and I think it’s good to consider the possibility. However, the girl called on successive days. According to Steve, she talked for 42 minutes the second time. I assume that, as a part of the police/law enforcement investigation, the phone records were checked after the first call or at least after the second call. They probably knew where the call was made from.

    Also, I don’t think any local Eldorado people were allowed in the compound and I can assure you everyone in the area had an interest in it, especially the Sheriff. That’s why he sought out a confidential informant.

    DRJ (a431ca)

  16. Dana,

    If the informant wasn’t in the Texas compound, I doubt they had probable cause to go in – no matter what was happening elsewhere.

    If he was in the compound at some point, we don’t know that he had access to the females. With a sect like this, it wouldn’t surprise me if the females were segregated.

    DRJ (a431ca)

  17. DRJ #12,

    I can see a conflict of interest where the mother is still a child.

    nk (6b7d4f)

  18. What a mess.

    DRJ (a431ca)

  19. P.S. to #17,

    And this is what this case is about, right? Damn. Children becoming mothers. That’s the abuse. Any Comanches left around to deal with the daddies in the traditional Comanche way?

    nk (6b7d4f)

  20. Read Foxfier’s blog. Some of these girls were dumped there by their parents and the parents left.

    DRJ (a431ca)

  21. I’ve seen Flora Jessop (quoted in Foxfier’s roundup) interviewed before.

    I think it was a 20/20 with Dan Quinones a few years back. She has work valiantly trying to rescue young girls caught up against their wills in these sects. On the 20/20 program, she had to keep her identity secret as she knew her life would be in danger yet continued trying to pick up two girls escaping from their compound from a safe house as cameras followed. The local sheriffs would not let 20/20 producers or Quinones in and they were very protective of the compound. Jessop said that they were in cahoots with the male hierarchy. It was just awful.

    More on Flora Jessop can be found at her website where she continues to rescue childbrides.

    Dana (d00b6b)

  22. According to this Wapo article, the authorities think that the girl who made the call is one of the ones who they took out, but is using a different name and is afraid to reveal herself. But they don’t know for sure.

    Steven Den Beste (99cfa1)

  23. Thanks for the Wapo link, Steven Den Beste.

    The article says the search was led by Texas Ranger Capt. Barry Caver:

    “Caver of the Texas Rangers said that when he and other officers arrived at the ranch on April 3, he told the ranch’s overseer, Merril Jessop, that they would execute the search warrant “at whatever cost that may be.” But Caver said he told Jessop he wanted to do it “in the most peaceful, respectful way I could, to avoid destroying their property.”

    Caver said that all the buildings on the sprawling 1,700-acre compound were searched for children and that he asked sect leaders to unlock the temple and the gate on the 10-foot-tall concrete fence around the building, but sect leaders refused. Authorities brought in a locksmith to unlock the fence gate, but they had to “physically breach” the temple door and every door inside the structure, Caver said. At that point, church members formed a human chain in front of the temple and then dropped to their knees as officers proceeded.”

    DRJ (a431ca)

  24. Foxfier,

    Since you are following this story, you might be interested in this chronology and Texas DFPS website.

    DRJ (a431ca)

  25. They were able to go in the compound without tanks and tear gas? What would Janet Reno think?

    Perfect Sense (b6ec8c)

  26. DRJ- thank you.

    A large part of why I make posts is because the biggest talker in my home town reads my blog– if I post something there, inside of three days 90% of the folks at home will have heard of the deal.

    The more information I can get, the happier I am.

    Foxfier (74f1c8)

  27. DRJ,
    Do you think there would be any chance that the underage mothers would be put in the same foster care homes as their own children? Or is it more likely that the state will separate them all? I’m assuming that all babies will be immediately adopted of course, I just mean older kids.

    EdWood (c2268a)

  28. All information on the more than 200 “breakaway” Mormon sects has been available on line for at least a decade. I wrote a piece back in August…..

    These days we have the very modern problem of child rape (resulting from polygamy) that is rampant in isolated enclaves in Utah and portions of adjoining states. LDS has been saying for years that “it’s not us,” blaming all on “offshoots” that are not part of LDS. But the areas now practicing polygamy are in places where the LDS holds total political power and the fact is that LDS has done nothing for decades to wipe out these “offshoots.” The Elizabeth Smart kidnapping and rape was done by a member of one of these sects who believed he had the “divine right” to take whatever girl he wanted for his (additional) wife. Not only does polygamy raise the specter of child rape, but many “families” containing up to fifty kids who cannot be supported by the “husband,” are sacking the State and Federal welfare money as well as overrunning local hospitals demanding and getting “free” care. This happens only where the LDS holds sway.

    Law enforcement could have acted on welfare fraud two decades ago. Everybody in Utah and Arizona absolutely knew what was going on because the children were sacking the counties with medical care claims as well as Welfare. An “informant” inside the compound not knowing what was going on is like Hillary not knowing about Monica.

    Howard Veit (cc8b85)

  29. DRJ…
    I commend the TX authorities for working this case from San Angelo, one county removed from the “crime scene” in Eldorado.
    Initially, I thought the ranch was just over the line in Tom Green Co., but see that it is in that other county. By working this from Tom Green, the case is given the appearance of not being influenced by local authorities, which can only (in the long run) be a good thing.
    As you noted, this will be a monumental case, and we’ll be reading about this for years to come.

    Another Drew (f9dd2c)

  30. Howard

    I’m curious

    LDS has done nothing for decades to wipe out these “offshoots.”

    How does one church “wipe out” another?

    Darleen (187edc)

  31. The LDS could have allowed the AG of Utah to do his job, they could have allowed the child services to look at the place, they had the power in UTAH and the power in counties in other states. All elected officials are wary of massive voter revenge especially if it looks like another Waco or Ruby Ridge is working. The LDS could have, and in my view should have, made their objections to these “off shoots” using the LDS name and making it crystal clear that LDS was hands off on these cults. I’ve lived in Utah and the LDS is very quiet but nothing happens that they don’t like.

    Howard Veit (cc8b85)

  32. Interesting news:

    “Authorities searching the compound of a polygamist sect in West Texas found a “cyanide poisoning document” among the dozens of items it seized during a weeklong search.

    Nothing in the 80-page list of items seized indicated that members of the sect planned to use cyanide. But the list had no explanation of the document and Department of Public Safety spokeswoman Tela Mange said she did not have any details about it.

    Also seized were school and medical records, including some that listed the name of a 16-year-old girl whose call to a family violence shelter triggered the raid at the compound. But her name was identical to that of several girls in the sect.”

    The cyanide is reminiscent of Jim Jones’ Peoples Temple.

    In addition, this suggests the girl does exist. I hope she is among the children removed from the compound and is simply afraid to talk.

    DRJ (a431ca)

  33. EdWood,

    That seems unlikely to me but I know each case will be decided based on the “best interests” of each child on a case-by-case basis. If the ad litems and the judge believe it’s in the best interest of specific children (mother and child) to be together, they will be. In other words, there could be different results in different cases.

    DRJ (a431ca)

  34. Thanks, DRJ.

    htom (412a17)


    krazy kagu (d982eb)

  36. This is sick beyond belief. These sister wives are a weak excuse for women. They are like chickens. One by one, they open their legs for the rooster to do his duty. Then their chicks follow suit. And the cycle continues.
    Their so-called husband is no different from a pedophile. In fact, he is allowed to practice pedophilia, over and over again, with impunity.

    He also has sex with his many illegal wives, as many as 15 or 20. What an abomination. And we have been condoning this in America for years.
    Those husbands are sexual perverts, who need to go to jail for a hundred years. Get the children out of there ASAP. Its all about saving the children NOW. Its too late for the sister-wives, they are in colusion with the sect, and lie to cover up the crimes being commited there. They are all a bunch of pigs.
    These so-called mothers know they cannot leave this ranch with their children. They are not allowed to take their children with them. And, are ostrasized if they do leave. Each sister wife, blows the whistle on another one who may want to leave.

    I would bet that welfare checks are arriving each month on this ranch to support all these freeloaders.
    Provided, by you, the taxpayer. The father can’t support his 100 children. He’s too busy having sex, and blantly abusing the system, while being the rabbit that he is allowed to be.

    STOP THIS NOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    WE THE PEOPLE, Lets do something about maggots like this!!

    Grace (5352c9)

  37. Right on Gracie, lets put all these compounds out of business in Texas. Colorado. Arizona, etc. They reproduce like rabbits. These adults should be castrated. Save the children!!!!

    Rick (5352c9)

  38. (#36) Grace-

    I am amazedthat you even care about these children since you just consider them the offspring of “maggots” / “pigs” / “rabbits” / “chickens” (need I continue..?!)!!! Are we talking about human beings or a barnyard of animals? If you expect these “children/women” to know better and to learn something better- PLEASE
    show them with compassion and by an example of someone they would want to be like and not the impression of the “animal” you seem to represent in your comments!!!!!!!

    Meda (664e48)

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