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Friday, May 09, 2008

Texas: FLDS mothers in a 'conspiracy of silence,' cannot challenge children's removal

By Brooke Adams

Salt Lake Tribune

May 9, 2008

Until women from a polygamous sect "unequivocally" identify their offspring, they have no standing to contest a judge's decision to remove the children from a West Texas ranch, state officials argue.

The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services contends in a new court filing that FLDS mothers have engaged in a "conspiracy of silence" that forced the en masse hearings they now want to redo.

The document was filed in response to a petition filed with the Third Court of Appeals in Austin on behalf of 50 women from the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

The state filing lists 468 children as being in custody, something a spokesman said Friday was a typographical error.

In the mothers' petition, filed by Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, the women asked the court to reunite them with their children as they work to comply with any service plan devised by the state.

But Texas DFPS argues their pleadings do not name or identify children as belonging to specific mothers, something the women have "repeatedly declined to do" and which calls into question their right to dispute the state action.

"Neither the courts nor the department should be forced to play guessing games when the safety and well-being of these children are at stake," the document states.

The state also argues that 51st District Judge Barbara Walther did not abuse her discretion simply because she relied on certain facts to determine that children should remain in state custody.

The state argues that during a hearing held April 17-18 no attorneys objected to the format used, which it narrowly interprets to mean use of an overflow auditorium.

Numerous attorneys did object to the "en masse" hearings, which they said denied their clients the right to individually make the case their children were not at risk.

The state filing says, "A review of the record indicates no attorney argued or urged a motion to sever during the adversary hearing" and argues it was unclear whether the attorneys' objections were about the split hearing rooms or the consolidated hearing.

Trying to hold individual hearings that met a statutory 14-day deadline would have been "an extraordinary waste of judicial resources" and a "logistical nightmare," the state argues. It also says attorneys for parents and children were given ample opportunity to question witnesses and present evidence before 51st District Judge Barbara Walther concluded the children were at risk.

The document recounts the history of the case, which began April 3 when investigators from Texas Child Protective Services entered the ranch in response to multiple calls from a 16-year-old named Sarah who claimed to have been abused.

Those calls are now being investigated in connection with a Colorado woman who has a history of making false abuse reports.

A CPS investigator said her team found two or three girls at the ranch who could have been "Sarah" but that the children would "switch their names, use a different last name than they had previously reported and falsely report that they had no middle names."

Ranch residents continued to provide "misinformation" throughout the investigation, the filing states. Despite that, the state uncovered facts that led to its conclusion that children at the ranch were being endangered by their parents' beliefs and practices.

Girls told them there was no age too young to be married. Girls as young as 16 were already mothers and lived in households with other wives. The state identified about 20 "girls" who had conceived or given birth younger than 16 or 17 - though some of the mother's ages are now disputed and the births occurred as long ago as 1993.

As for boys, the danger to them is a "belief system requires them to follow the prophet," the filing states. Removal of all the children was justified because the ranch was considered a single household, the filings said. And removing the men from the ranch so that children could stay there with their mothers was "untenable and impractical."

The "entire male and female population at the ranch had been enculturated into the belief that underage marriage was sacrosanct," the state argues.

Texas will immunize FLDS children
By Brooke Adams

The Salt Lake Tribune

Texas authorities have asked foster care providers to immunize every FLDS child - despite some parents' concerns about possible negative effects.

The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services sent letters to 16 group homes and shelters this week asking them to line up shots for the children.

"It appears to be a totally unimmunized population," said Patrick Crimmins, department spokesman. "We're the legal parents of the children and we would like for them to be immunized."

Crimmins said the state requires all children in custody to be immunized for their "health and safety." He said no one would be forced to get inoculations; older children specifically would have the opportunity to decline the shots.

A Dallas attorney called the demand "outrageous."

"The truth is [FLDS parents] don't know what to do," said Polly R. O'Toole, who represents one child. "They would prefer to make that decision. But they are afraid to exercise any options out of fear they will be perceived as uncooperative by CPS."

Rod Parker, a Salt Lake City attorney who has acted as a spokesman for the FLDS, said some children have been immunized but their health records are in Utah.

Willie Jessop, an FLDS member and spokesman, said some parents have immunized their children and some have not. "It's an individual decision," he said.

But the parents "oppose forced mandates of things happening to their children they don't even know don't even know about."

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