Posted Apr 15, 2008 05:30 pm CDT
Updated: As all involved gear up for a huge child custody hearing Thursday over 416 children removed from a Texas ranch run by a renegade Mormon group that allegedly promotes polygamy and underage marriages, a number of mothers are protesting that their children have been removed from their custody without adequate cause.
“Of the 139 women who voluntarily left the compound with their children since an April 3 raid,” writes the Associated Press, “only those with children 4 or younger were allowed to continue staying with them” as the state investigates abuse allegations, according to a spokewoman for the state Children’s Protective Services agency.
“It is not the normal practice to allow parents to accompany the child when an abuse allegation is made,” spokeswoman Marissa Gonzales tells AP.
However, one tearful mother, who gave her name as “Marie,” says her three sons, ages 5, 7 and 9, “have been so protected and loved.” The only abuse they have suffered, she says, is “from this experience” of being taken from her without even an opportunity to say goodbye.
“It just feels like someone is trying to hurt us,” Paula, a 38-year-old member of the sect, tells the Houston Chronicle. “I do not understand how they can do this when they don’t have for-sure knowledge that anyone has abused these children.”
Rod Parker, a lawyer who represents the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, says some 60 men who are still on its 1,700-acre “Yearning for Zion” ranch will leave if the state permits women and children to return with child welfare monitors, according to AP.
Meanwhile, observers praise the judge in the case, Barbara Lane Walther, as well-suited for her challenging role, reports the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
As discussed in an earlier ABAJournal.com post, the judge and lawyers throughout the state are gearing up for the massive hearing Thursday.
“It’s probably the largest family law case in the country if you look at it as one big problem,” says Tom Vick, former chairman of the State Bar of Texas family law section. The bar is fielding two to three e-mails an hour from lawyers who want to help in the difficult case in which many of the children may be fearful of cooperating with individuals from the outside world, he tells CNN.
Vick says he took the last hotel room at a popular local chain in the San Angelo area last week, but notes that volunteers in the city of 90,000 have opened their homes to other lawyers and a local Episcopal church is holding a dinner for them tomorrow night. “It is a logistical nightmare, but it is working out well,” he says.
Updated at 5:10 p.m., central time, to include Houston Chronicle coverage.