Patterico's Pontifications


Organizing the Texas Child Custody Case (Updated)

Filed under: Civil Liberties,Current Events,Law — DRJ @ 11:43 am

[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.


42 Responses to “Organizing the Texas Child Custody Case (Updated)”

  1. I’ll say it before anyone else:

    “This operation is so large, it must have been planned well in advance, and this entire thing was a set-up by TX, to embarrass, and harass, the good, devout, law-abiding members of the FLDS.”

    return you msg board to it’s normal settings…

    Another Drew (f9dd2c)

  2. Planned well in advance, set up, possibly. A lot of people have doubts that the alleged call from the teenage girl was real, although they’re pointing fingers to people outside the law enforcement community when naming blames.

    Even without the set up, I hope the sheriff had contingency plans in place, and made use of them. DRJ said something similar in a previous post.

    But good, law abiding? (I’ll give you the devout. But devout means nothing. Osama bin Laden is devout.)

    My grandparents were pushed into an arranged marriage. But they were both 18, and my grandfather ran away, first to Paris, and then to the USA, and didn’t send for my grandmother for something like seven years, and only did that because the relatives forced him to. (Part of the seven years was not his fault: he arrived in Paris just before WWI started, and couldn’t get to the States until after the war ended. But un jeune homme en Paris…) And of course, she was his only wife, then and later, even though neither one could stand the other.

    These girls are young teens, and forced to “marry” men much older, and become part of a harem, and they have little chance of escaping. When we hear about Saudis and Pakistanis doing this, we become mightily enraged (if we are not in the MSM).

    And aren’t you aware of the history of the FDLS? They’re the Mormons who refused to become law abiding when the main group accepted the fact that polygamy had to go.

    kishnevi (d50358)

  3. This page is not renewing.

    nk (6b7d4f)

  4. Ok, now it is. Judge Walther’s plan does not sound like due process to me. And why did she take away the cell phones?

    nk (6b7d4f)

  5. Ah, kishnevi my friend…
    If you had been following my previous comments on this situation, you would have known that what I said above was pure snark (the point of restoring previous settings…turn snark filter back on…blah/blah/blah).

    Please, give me some credit for knowing up from down. My name doesn’t start with “L”, after all.

    Another Drew (f9dd2c)

  6. cell phones…
    To do a history search to pin down the orginator of that initial call; and, to prevent communication back to the FLDS without the court being aware of it.

    Another Drew (f9dd2c)

  7. A lot of people have doubts that the alleged call from the teenage girl was real, although they’re pointing fingers to people outside the law enforcement community when naming blames.

    I doubt that any law enforcement agency would have based an operation of this size on an unverified call. That having been said, telling the press that the operation was based on such a call was a nice bit of psyops if there was other information that formed the probable cause.

    theBruce (045589)

  8. NK,

    Apparently the Judge ordered the confiscation of the cell phones to prevent improper communications and witness tampering. From a Salt Lake Tribune article:

    “The judge overseeing a massive investigation into alleged child abuse within a polygamous sect on Sunday ordered law officers to confiscate electronic devices from women and children in state custody at two shelters, cutting off their contact with family.

    The order, signed Sunday morning by 51st District Judge Barbara Walther, came after someone used a cell phone to send out images of living conditions at one shelter and to speak with a newspaper reporter.

    State troopers confiscated at least one box full of cell phones, chargers and other devices, said Marissa Gonzales, a spokeswoman for Texas Child Protective Services.
    Attorneys for the children told the judge this weekend that cell phones needed to be removed to prevent “improper communication, tampering with witnesses and interference with the attorney-client relationship.

    Gonzales was unsure whether the women had access to other telephones at the shelters.

    Rod Parker, a Salt Lake City attorney hired to represent the FLDS families, said that the authorities had told the women to give up their cell phones or they would be asked to leave.”

    According to this article, the DPS acknowledged it may have named the wrong man in the original warrant that triggered the raid. I assume that is a reference to Dale Barlow.

    Further, a San Angelo doctor who is providing medical care to the children confirmed the mothers’ reports that the living conditions are crowded and the children want to go home.

    DRJ (a431ca)

  9. To do a history search to pin down the orginator of that initial call; and, to prevent communication back to the FLDS without the court being aware of it.

    The first rationale illegal wihtout probable cause; the second illegal under all circumstances.

    nk (6b7d4f)

  10. Today’s Salt Lake Tribune notes that the women and children have been moved to a larger facility in San Angelo, presumably to alleviate crowding.

    DRJ (a431ca)

  11. nk…
    Perhaps you should move to San Angelo so as to better represent the individuals involved.

    Another Drew (f9dd2c)

  12. Attorneys for the children told the judge this weekend that cell phones needed to be removed to prevent “improper communication, tampering with witnesses and interference with the attorney-client relationship.

    Not sufficient justification. I don’t know what “improper communication” is and “interference with the attorney-client relationship” is just plain nonsense. “Tampering with witnesses” is a good reason if supported by actual incidents of tampering by an individual who is a a prisoner and under lawful order not to speak to witnesses.

    nk (6b7d4f)

  13. There’s a lot more at this Salt Lake Tribune link:

    “We need to handle these cases as individual cases because we’re dealing with individual families,” the judge added. “We need to recognize that, and the court wants to respect that.”

    Walther appointed two coordinating guardian ad litems — Randall Stout and Carmen Dusek — to help make that happen. After a break, attorneys discussed how to break the large number of women and children into smaller working groups. Dusek suggested these groupings: mothers who are ages 12 to 17; teenage girls who are not mothers in the same age range; girls and boys ages 5 to 11, in two separate gender groups; boys and girls from birth to age 4, again in separate groups; and children with special needs.

    One current problem: there are 20 to 30 women who claim to be adults over age 18 but are not believed by the state. “Some of these women are providing birth certificates and IDs and are being told they are lying,” said Criselda Paz from Legal Aid of North Texas. “We have had extensive problems and complications with regard to the age of these women,” Dusek said, suggesting a special master be appointed to resove each case.

    Stout said women and adults have changed the names they are giving officials, and younger children are being passed from adult to adult. He suggested creating a medical file with photographs for each child, so children can be identified regardless of what name they give or who is providing their care.

    Tim Hargrove, an attorney representing the interest of parents, said handling the interests of adult women “en masse” raises serious constitional issues.

    He and other attorneys asked who will question witnesses; what time limits will exist; and how adults will speak with attorneys when cell phones have been confiscated and the women have been told if they leave, they cannot return.

    Gary Banks, representing state child welfare officials, said the state will try to pare down its witness list and will set up a phone bank and videoconferencing for interested teens and adults at the two shelters.

    The judge said she was aware that holding a single hearing on Thursday for all of the involved children and adults raises constitutional issues, and she said she is still considering how to proceed. As for managing the large number of parties, she said: “Quite frankly, I’m not sure how were going to do it.” “


    It may be that the request to remove the cell phones was linked to the mothers’ apparent efforts to shield the children’s identities.

    DRJ (a431ca)

  14. AD #11,

    Heh! I would file state habeas corpus petitions and federal Section 1983 complaints for as many of the prisoners as would have me for their attorney. And I could, lawfully, do it en masse. I think it’s going to happen soon, in any case, even if I am not the one doing it.

    nk (6b7d4f)

  15. We await the confirmation of your course of action.

    Another Drew (f9dd2c)

  16. We await the confirmation of your course of action.

    I will keep caring for my family, of course.

    nk (6b7d4f)

  17. Another Drew–the comments over the last couple of days on almost every post here have been so snarky that I’ve just sort of tuned them all out. If I wanted that level of punditry, I could listen to Rush Limbaugh and actually be entertained..So your previous remarks undoubtedly got lost in the mess. To that extent, mea culpa.

    kishnevi (da26af)

  18. NK,

    The children are being held under child welfare provisions, possibly Section 261.302(d). Given that the women are staying with the children voluntarily and the children are under a temporary CPS hold, would habeas even apply?

    In addition, perhaps Section 261.303 is the court’s authority to remove the cell phones to the extent the use of the cell phones interfered with the investigation.

    Section 261.304 sets forth provisions for handling anonymous reports of child abuse and basically allows interviews and an inspection of the child’s home to corroborate the report. I doubt this is an anonymous report but to the extent it is, I think this is the applicable rule.

    DRJ (a431ca)

  19. Kishnevi #17,

    Talk to me. I won’t be snarky and I always benefit from discussing subjects with you.

    DRJ (a431ca)

  20. kishnevi…
    Hey, no problemo.
    Heaven knows I have no pretense at being an entertainer, only as an honest observor of events around me.
    I will attempt in the future to insert “snark alerts” where appropriate.

    Another Drew (f9dd2c)

  21. i agree with nk in #9. this is starting to sound a little oppressive. forcing women to give up their cellphones as a condition of remaining with their children? they were the victims to begin with, and now they’re being victimized a second time.

    assistant devil's advocate (e7a2d5)

  22. I’ve updated the post. The children have been moved to a larger facility and most of the mothers have been sent back to the Eldorado compound.

    DRJ (a431ca)

  23. The FLDS attorneys have floated the idea of letting the mothers and children return to the compound with CPS monitors, while all the men will be removed.

    That might be a good solution while the legal proceedings go forward. We’ll see what the testimony shows and what the judge decides.

    DRJ (a431ca)

  24. Re my comment #14 and DRJ’s #18:

    The habeas petitions would be on behalf of the children, brought by the mothers as “next best friend”, to ensure an individual hearing for each. The 1983 complaints would be under Due Process grounds. Minimal due process demands a fair opportunity to be heard and minimallest due process demands a duly enacted law which empowers a judge to take away your contact with the outside world.

    nk (6b7d4f)

  25. I think they may be endangering the children by allowing the adult women to stay around at all— though it’s greatly complicated by some of the children being the mothers of other victims.

    The form of Stockholm syndrome observed with child-abuse victims is the least of the worries; would YOU disobey authority figures who told you to never talk to outsiders when there’s an authority figure RIGHT THERE?

    Foxfier (74f1c8)

  26. Well, most of the women are gone now.

    DRJ (a431ca)

  27. I just hope they can get the kids into some kind of foster care.

    Foxfier (74f1c8)

  28. Foxfier, #25, its hard to know what at this point in time, would cause even more trauma for these children – being with, or without, their mothers. As the authorities are hoping to be able to get information from them, I would suspect this would have to be weighed out very carefully.

    Dana (a7cb7a)

  29. From a legal standpoint, if the mothers were manipulating the children’s names and personal information, it’s much better that the children are separated from their mothers so the State can get unvarnished information. Of course, I’m sure it’s hard on the children to be separated from their parents but if it’s true there are several underage pregnant girls/mothers, the State can’t ignore the possibility there is a pattern of abuse.

    What’s interesting to me is if the State is justified in taking into consideration that these are polygamists. Does that mean their lifestyle can be more closely scrutinized? Practically speaking, it seems ludicrous to treat polygamists in a remote compound like a suburban family. But perhaps equal protection says they have to be.

    DRJ (a431ca)

  30. Dana- indeed. I do not have the LEAST bit of a desire to be in such a complicated situation as the poor guys in charge of this mess!

    Given that several children have identified multiple women as their mothers….yeah, it’s a bloody mess.

    Foxfier (74f1c8)

  31. Ok.

    There are two wholly separate issues, here. The “daddies” who impregnated children get staked out on an anthill. But the children who became mothers and their children do not get separated except for overwhelming cause and in the process are not denied any right or privilege.

    nk (6b7d4f)

  32. NK,

    I think it’s clear the child-mothers are going to get special treatment. The Judge made that clear today, including making certain they have adequate representation (perhaps even multiple attorneys each) who will have the most time allocated to them to present their cases.

    As you know, the test will be the “best interests of the child” — only the hard part will be that there are two “best interests” involved. I’m speculating, but I think the result will depend on how old the child-mother is. Is it really best for both children that a 12- or 13-year-old mother stays with her child?

    DRJ (a431ca)

  33. As for the daddies, this proceeding only involves their parental rights. Their criminal law problems haven’t even begun.

    DRJ (a431ca)

  34. Boy DRJ, thats yet another sticky mess – what rights do minor mothers have? What is in the child’s best interest – whose the child – the mother or the baby, or both?

    There was a gal on the news tonight who managed to excape a polygamous marriage and she believes that it would be worse to separate mothers from children, no matter the age, since they are trained from the get-go to not trust any authorities outside of the compound that it would further inhibit any who really did want to be free from the cult to speak freely.

    OTH, she also said that it is the original wives who control and manipulate the husbands into doing what they want, and marrying who they deem next. I thought her usage of ‘manipulative’ was interesting.

    Dana (a7cb7a)

  35. “Best interests of the child” is the placement test. It does not come into question until a child has been determined to be abused, neglected or dependent. Otherwise, Bill Gates could take my daughter any time he wanted to.

    Is it really best for both children that a 12- or 13-year-old mother stays with her child?

    Sigh. I don’t know.

    I have a problem with the dependency test. Neglect and abuse are easy. A judgment of inability to properly care for a child because of poverty, youth or mental disability is not.

    nk (6b7d4f)

  36. Here’s another question – whicthe child’s needs supercede the others – minor mothers or their babies?

    Also, does child abuse include mothers willingly giving their minor daughters over to middle aged pigs for “marriage”?

    Dana (a7cb7a)

  37. NK,

    I think the State will be able to meet its prima facie case on neglect or abuse, but perhaps I’m letting the report that there may be 30 underage mothers sway me.

    DRJ (a431ca)

  38. Dana,

    I don’t think either child’s interests would be more important. They would have to balance the interests of the children/child-mothers.

    As for the adult mothers, their rights would not trump the best interests of the children, and whether they participated in a pattern of abuse would be relevant.

    DRJ (a431ca)

  39. Dana- I don’t think a minor could be held responsible for that; now, the adult parents of those children “given” into these “spiritual marriages”– THOSE should be prosecuted. Maybe as helping in child prostitution? (given that the sect owned everything, and thus by following the will of the sect they were getting stuff in exchange for their child)

    Foxfier (74f1c8)

  40. agree with nk, #31. the rest of you are just socially engineering this in your desire to see the kids ripped from their young mothers (now without cellphones) so they can be raised by foster parents (who frequently regard foster children as cash cows) under the complete control of the all-benevolent state of texas.

    point i haven’t seen raised about appointed counsel for children: these lawyers don’t have to take direction from their minor clients the same way you would if you were my lawyer, consequently, court-appointed counsel is like an unaccountable helmsman setting course for his/her own favored destination, guided only by personal outlook and whimsy. witness the recent homeschooling decision in california, where appointed counsel for the children undertook to illegalize homeschooling and succeeded (pending re-review by the appellate court), undoubtedly against the wishes of both the young clients and their parents.

    assistant devil's advocate (c1c2e5)

  41. ADA– displaying your typical charm and intellect, I see.

    Foxfier (74f1c8)

  42. There may be as many as five lawyers per child. An attorney for CPS, the district attorney who will actually be prosecuting the case, a guardian ad litem, an attorney for each of the parents. If they all keep in mind always that they are all there for the best interests of the child, they will help the court reach the most nearly appropriate decision in each case. Admittedly, the attorneys for the parents will be walking a bit of a tightrope — to control their clients without selling out their parental rights.

    nk (6b7d4f)

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