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Custody Hearing for the Children of the Polygamist FLDS Sect Starts

By Susan Duclos     Apr 17, 2008 in Lifestyle
The largest court custody hearing in America's history, starts today as CPS officials testify why 416 children were removed from the Yearning for Zion Ranch, which is a FLDS compound, and why they believe the state should be granted custody the children
State officials, Child Services, lawyers and the women of FLDS all march to the courthouse today to begin the custody hearings for 416 children who were removed from the FLDS (Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) compound, Yearning for Zion (YFZ) Ranch, because investigators reported the children were in danger of, "emotional, physical, and/or sexual abuse."
The FLDS lawyers claim the removal of the 416 children was illegal, implying that the removal was done on the basis of a phone from a girl who alleged she was being abused and asking for help, but Greg Abbott, the Texas Attorney General, says, "the case really doesn't hinge upon that particular 16-year-old", he goes on to add, "Once investigators, in good faith, go into the compound and determine whether or not there was any kind of wrongdoing; the case is on its own after that."
"It's our belief that these children who are under the age of 17 have engaged in sex with older men, which is a violation of Texas law, which is also a potential violation of the bigamy laws. So, yes, we do believe we have information that will be substantiated in court that will show there has been sexual assault as well as bigamy," Abbott said.
The custody hearing will determine whether the state is granted full custody over the children, ages ranging from 6 months old to 17 years old with approximately 100 of those children being under the age of four.
Marissa Gonzales, a Child Protective Services spokeswoman says that their attorneys are "going to take all the evidence we have and make a case for keeping the children in our care."
If the judge, Barbara Walther, grants CPS custody of the children they will then start being placed in foster homes.
Then, in order to keep siblings together whenever possible, the state will have to determine who are and who are not siblings, which is proving to be difficult because according to Gonzales, "There's quite a lot of difficulty in identifying how many of these children are biologically related to one another. There's a large number who are half-siblings."
This custody case will be one of the largest in American history.
Because of the sheer size of this case, logistically, it could not all be done in one courtroom, with 350 volunteer attorneys for the children, lawyers for the FLDS sect, the mothers, and the CPS officials and their attorneys as well as the state attorneys, it has forced the court to get creative by setting up at multiple locations around town, hooked up by closed-circuit television and funneled into the Tom Green County courthouse.
[Update] As this day moves forward I will continue to update with anything I find in relation to the hearing.
As of now (same link as above) CNN reports:
State attorneys requested DNA samples to match children to their parents, as well as a psychiatric evaluation of the children -- a request that immediately prompted objections.
Judge Barbara Walther told attorneys objections were premature.
"It's not going to be perfect, but let's just try to get this started and see how it goes," she said. "This is wasting time."
They also report that a recess was called to allow attorneys to study records produced by the state's first witness, who is a child protection official.
The children and their attorneys are participating in the hearing and some of the children's attorneys say they have no access to the fathers of the children.
[Update #2] The reason for the recess just 45 minutes into the hearing has been reported.
When the state was truing to introduce evidence into the record, which was medical records for three of the girls, ages 17 and 18, all the lawyers jumped to their feet to cram in to see those records. Considering the amount of lawyers we are talking about here, the judge felt it prudent to call for a recess to give all the attorneys a chance to view the medical records.
It is believed the medical records are to show that these teens have already given birth, which would show that they were impregnated while being underage.
If this is going to happen with each and every piece of evidence, this could be a very long custody hearing.
[Update #3]- The FDLS lawyers tried to tell the judge that it was the FLDS religion that was being attacked and the attorney for the state said, "This is not a case against the church. It is about child sex abuse — a pattern of sexual assault."
The Judge, described as "frustrated" is reported to have said, "I don't intend to rule on anyone's religious practices. ... I am not passing (judgment) on anyone's religious beliefs.
Walther said, adding that the hearing was about the "taking of the children.
It is about whether or not there's sufficient information to justify the state's intrusion into these folks' lives. The real issue is whether these children can be returned to their parents."
At issue is some of the evidence the state is presenting, which are documents that show a list of names and ages, including indications of underage pregnant girls.
FLDS lawyers claim that those documents should fall under "clergy-parishioner religious privilege", but the judge says she is inclined to "conditionally" accept the records as evidence, pointed out that attorneys are more than welcome to file their objections to the court in writing. She said she did not want to discourage any of the issues raised by attorneys, but urged everyone involved to stick to the issue at hand.
She also made it clear that other issues would be dealt with in the future.
[Update #4]- Testimony from one of the witnesses, described by reporters, found at Deseret News.
Developing as the day goes on........
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