Saturday, May 31, 2008

FLDS Update: Judge-Attorney conference ends in confusion

By Brooke Adams and Julie Lyon
The Salt Lake Tribune
Article Last Updated: 05/31/2008 02:39:01 AM MDT
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Updated: 5:52 PM- SAN ANGELO, Texas - A four-hour conference ended in mass confusion today in a Texas courthouse where attorneys had gathered to work out a plan for getting the children of a polygamous sect out of state custody and back home.
Fifty-first District Judge Barbara Walther ended the conference after an attorney with Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, which represents many of the families, challenged the judge's modifications to a negotiated agreement on the children.
Walthers convened the conference after the Texas Supreme Court on Thursday backed a May 22 decision from the Third Court of Appeals that found the state did not have proof that all the children were in imminent danger of abuse that justified keeping them out of their homes.
The higher courts ruled that the state's case particularly failed in regard to boys and pre-pubescent girls and that the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services had other alternatives for working with parents to ensure safety while leaving the children in their care.
By day's end, Walther had not vacated her original order seizing the children as the higher courts had ordered. That means that about 450 children may not be going home on Monday, as proposed, attorneys for the families said.
Attorney Julie Balovich of Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, which represents many of the families from the FYZ Ranch in Eldorado, told the judge that the message from the higher courts was clear: Walther must vacate her order.
Walther disagreed with Balovich's interpretation, saying to the legal aid firm, "You get an order signed by all your clients and I will sign it."
After the conference, attorneys said that such an order would require negotiations and the signatures of the 38 mothers who appealed Walther's original order, which could take a long time.
Earlier today, it appeared that the judge and attorneys could work out a way to start allowing the children to go home starting Monday.
In their negotiations, Walther set out rules: In order to take custody, FLDS parents or their designees must produce an affidavit and have themselves and their children photographed "at the time of taking possession of the child," according to the order.
Also, the children would not be allowed to leave the state for at least 90 days, and if the families move within Texas, the parents must notify the state seven working days prior to the relocation.
And if the children were to travel within state lines more than 60 miles from where they live, the state must be told at least 48 hours in advance.
The judge also would have required that state officials be allowed access to the YFZ Ranch "at any and all times necessary to the investigation" if any children are there. In addition, mothers and fathers must take parenting classes.
The children were taken from the YFZ Ranch in Eldorado between April 3-5. Residents of the ranch are members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, which holds plural marriage as one of its sacred tenets.