[Guest post by DRJ]
The case involving the children taken from Warren Jeffs’ Eldorado, Texas, compound has been described as the largest child custody case in the past 50 years. The San Angelo Standard Times reports that the Judge presiding in the case met today with about 4 dozen attorneys to prepare for Thursday’s preliminary hearing.
The presiding judge in the case is Judge Barbara Walther. Judge Walther is a Texas district judge of the 51st judicial district which includes Tom Green, Coke, Irion, Sterling and Schleicher Counties. San Angelo is the county seat of Tom Green County. Eldorado is the county seat of Schleicher County. I suspect Judge Walther travels to the various counties on a rotating basis to hear cases.
This case has been set in San Angelo where the children and their mothers are being housed. Tom Green County has a larger courthouse and more personnel than Schleicher County. In addition, San Angelo has a small commercial airport and is more accessible by road than Eldorado. San Angelo also has more lodging and restaurants so it can better support the influx of people that will be involved in the hearings.
The court clerks and the Texas Supreme Court are working on arrangements for the thousands of pages of documents expected to be filed:
“The Tom Green County and Schleicher County district clerks have formed an agreement to allow paperwork to be filed in either court and transferred, while the Texas Supreme Court is meeting in emergency session to consider a request from Walther to allow electronic filing in her court, in the hope that such a move could mitigate the tens of thousands of pages of paperwork expected in the massive case.”
The Standard Times also reported that Judge Walther has appointed two San Angelo attorneys to coordinate the attorneys who will be representing the 416 children who are in temporary state custody. According to the Houston Chronicle, they may be coordinating over 350 attorneys:
“Texas bar officials say more than 350 attorneys from across the state have volunteered to represent the children for free. Child welfare laws require each child in state custody to have an attorney.
“The size, the scope of this effort is unprecedented,” attorney Guy Choate said. “It’s terribly important to the State Bar of Texas that everyone have access to justice.”
As Judge Walther noted, if every party is given 5 minutes to speak, the hearing will last a minimum of 70 hours. The attorney coordinators will probably work to identify children with similar interests, combine them in groups, and designate a spokesperson to speak for them. The key will be getting enough information from the children and their mothers that children with similar interests can be identified and grouped.
Finally, state officials confiscated about 50 cell phones from the children and/or their mothers pursuant to the Judge’s order. I’m interested if the cell phone that was used to call the Newbridge shelter was among those confiscated.
UPDATE: Fox News reports that the children have been moved to a larger facility, the San Angelo civic center, and the mothers were returned to the Yearning for Zion compound.
ABC reports that mothers with children under 4 were allowed to stay with their children, and the other mothers were told to return to the compound.
This makes sense if the State plans to argue that the mothers were complicit in the older children’s abuse. It doesn’t make sense to argue the parents are abusers while allowing the children to remain in their care.