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May 22, 2008

Court…State Was Wrong To Seize Kids From Compound

Just breaking....A Texas appeals courts says state had no basis to take hundreds of kids.

The Third Court of Appeals in Austin ruled that the grounds for removing the children were "legally and factually insufficient" under Texas law. They did not immediately order the return of the children.

Child welfare officials removed the children on the grounds that the sect pushed underage girls into marriage and sex and trained boys to become future perpetrators.

The appellate court ruled the chaotic hearing held last month did not demonstrate the children were in any immediate danger, the only measure of taking children from their homes without court proceedings.

Since they haven’t ordered any of the children returned, I am not sure what the practical implication of this ruling will be.

Presumably this will be appealed by the state but assuming no rationale turns up and the decision is upheld, there’s going to be huge lawsuits against somebody, right?

Update [Gabe]: A copy of the court's decision can be downloaded here. I can't cut 'n' paste (it's a scanned fax), but the gist is that the state failed to show physical danger to the children. The court notes that "even if one views the FLDS belief system as creating a danger of sexual abuse, there was no evidence that the danger was "immediate" or "urgent" enough to justify taking the children into state custody as required by Texas law.

More [Gabe]: So what happens now? The appellate court has ordered the trial court to vacate its custody order. That custody order is what took the children from their parents and placed them with Texas Department of Family protective Services. At least as far as the 38 children involved in this case are concerned, they will no doubt be rejoined with their parents shortly.

There are a few important things about the ruling:

(1) It only applies specifically to the 38 "Relator" children, not all 463 that were taken. No doubt, however, the reasoning will quickly be adopted by the other courts considering the custody orders and any which are currently being appealed.

(2) The opinion notes that five pregnant minors were found in the compound and that their marital status was not known to the court. It is not illegal for a man to have sex with a minor woman in Texas so long as she is legally married to him. Given the FLDS practice of "spiritual marriage," we'll have to keep waiting to see if these five pregnant minors were legally married.

(3) The court has absolutely crushed the Texas DFPS claim that the entire compound constitutes one "household" for purposes of child protection laws. Writes the court:

The notion that the entire ranch community constitutes a "household" as contemplated by section 262.201 and justifies removing all children from the ranch community if there is even one incident of suspected child sexual abuse is contrary to the evidence."

The single household claim was central to the Texas DFPS's justification for taking all the children on the ranch.


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posted by DrewM. at 02:14 PM

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