Family Law

Dozens of Lawyers at Custody Hearing for 416 Kids from Texas Ranch

In preparation for a massive custody hearing Thursday concerning 416 children taken by the state of Texas from a ranch run by a renegade Mormon group that advocates polygamy, a preliminary hearing was held today that drew some 48 lawyers.

District Judge Barbara Walther “was clearly struggling with how to organize the largest child-custody hearing in Texas history, and perhaps in the nation,” recounts the Associated Press. “If I gave everybody five minutes, that would be 70 hours,” the judge said.

Mothers of some of the children taken in the raid, which reportedly began April 3 and lasted for days, are protesting that their children are now being held under conditions that are frightening and perhaps unhealthy for them. State workers contend that many may have been abused, living in an environment in which children under 16 were encouraged to form sexual relationships and “spiritual” marriages. In that regard, the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints differs from the mainstream Mormon church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which doesn’t promote polygamy.

Meanwhile, some 50 cell phones reportedly were confiscated yesterday from women and children who had been living on the ranch, pursuant to a judge’s emergency order that had been sought by lawyers for 18 girls in state custody. The lawyers contended that the phones should be taken “to prevent improper communication, tampering with witnesses and to ensure no outside inhibitors to the attorney-client relationship,” according to AP.

Texas bar officials say 350 attorneys have offered their services to the children on a pro bono basis.

Additional coverage:

London Times: “Children of polygamy cult torn from mothers”

Washington Post: “Tex. Compound Was Considered A ‘Holy Land’”

Christian Science Monitor: “Thorny issues in prosecuting polygamist sect”

MSNBC: “534 women, children leave polygamist ranch”

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