CNN Sr. Legal Analyst
The Third District Court of Appeals, in Austin, today ruled that the children seized last month at the FLDS ranch must be returned to their mothers. The decision made a lot of sense to me. The nine-page opinion is very much worth reading here.
To me, the key passage in the opinion is this one:
"Removing children from their homes and parents on an emergency basis before fully litigating the issue of whether the parents should continue to have custody of the children is an extreme measure. It is, unfortunately, sometimes necessary for the protection of the children involved. However, it is a step that the legislature has provided may be taken only when the circumstances indicate a danger to the physical health and welfare of the children and the need for protection of the children is so urgent that immediate removal of the children from the home is necessary."
The question is whether the Texas authorities put forth enough evidence to justify the 'extreme' step of taking the children away from their mothers. The court focused a great deal on the claim by Texas that the 'pervasive belief system' of the FLDS put the children in danger that males were raised to be perpetrators of sexual abuse and females were trained to be victims.
David M. Reisner
360° Digital Producer
This is just crossing the wires:
An Appeals court has ruled that the state of Texas should not have removed the more than 400 children it took from a polygamist sect's ranch
In its ruling, the Texas 3rd District Court of Appeals decided in favor of 38 women who had appealed the removals, as well as a decision last month by a district judge that the children will remain in state custody.
The ruling stated:
"The legislature has required that there be evidence to support a finding that there is a danger to the physical health or safety of the children in question and that the need for protection is urgent and warrants immediate removal,"
"Evidence that children raised in this particular environment may someday have their physical health and safety threatened is not evidence that the danger is imminent enough to warrant invoking the extreme easure of immediate removal prior to full litigation of the issue."
The children were removed last month from the Yearning for Zion (YFZ) Ranch, owned by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a Mormon offshoot that practices polygamy.
From our Ed Lavandera:
"This ruling out of Austin goes on to say the family and protective services division (the agency in charge of removing the children from the compound) did not prove the children were in danger and they needed to be removed from their homes."
"You can imagine what the reaction is going to be in the coming ours from those involved with the sect and those who live in the compound... "
"State officials are also saying they still need more time to investigate and they are still in that process. "
Watch 360° for in-depth coverage and share your thoughts here:
Editor's Note: The following is a dispatch from CNN's Senior producer Tracy Sabo inside the FLDS courtroom hearings.
Note: The next case was going to be postponed to take place at the same time as all the other 11 children in state custody… but the guardian for this child had dialed in by phone/”Court call” at the personal cost of $55, and the Judge could not guarantee reimbursement… so they proceeded in hearing this one case of the 10.)
Father: Marion Steed
Child: Angela, age 11
Editor's Note: The following is a dispatch from CNN's Senior producer Tracy Sabo inside the FLDS courtroom hearings
Courtroom B, Case #1
Mother: Louanna Jessop
Father: Leroy J. Jessop (not present)
Note: This mother/father have 7 children.
From a pool reporter inside the courtroom
Update from Courtroom A
1 year old boy
Mother: 17 ½ years old
Attorneys asked for a continuance because the mother, who is a minor, has not been able to meet with her attorneys because she is 8 months pregnant and located in a shelter in San Antonio. The judge granted the continuance and the hearing will now be held 6/3. Attorneys expressed concern that they are not able to have private conversations, that social workers are taking notes on phone conversations.
9 ½ year old child
Father: Warren Steed Jeffs (incarcerated)
Highlights: The attorney asked which version of the Book of Mormon the children were given (new version of Book of Mormon condems polygamy). CPS worker Irene Schwaninger "Polygamy is not the issue, underage marriage is the issue here." Mother has signed CPS plan.
From a pool reporter inside the courtroom
2 cases so far:
2 ½ year old girl
Janet Jeffs, the mother, was not in the courtroom, but she and her attorney spoke via speakerphone from Austin, TX. Janet and her child are living together at a shelter in Austin. There were questions about whether Janet was a minor, but at this morning's hearing the state agreed to accept the fact the she was over 18. The mother's court-appointed attorney had to withdraw from the case because she was assigned to represent Janet as a minor. The judge has given Janet a week to find an attorney who will represent her as an adult. Janet says she last saw the father, Raymond Jessop, about a year ago at the ranch. No one knows where he is now.
Afternoon session in San Angelo, Texas. Judge Thomas Gossett presiding.
Kathleen Steed, mother of 12, possibly 13 (one child is being disputed): Father, LeRoy Steed, is not present, state has not been able to locate him. Hearing focused on only one of their children, an 8-year-old girl.
Paige Hawkins, Texas Dept. of Family and Protective Services, on the stand... She says the state formulated a "family service plan" for the family based on risks that officials felt the child faced when they removed her from the FLDS ranch.
They haven't had any contact with the father, nor was he included in forming the plan.
Conversation with adults from the FLDS sect in west Texas are usually very polite and very short. Few have been willing to share more than a friendly "hello" with me and even fewer have been willing to discuss any details of this mammoth child abuse investigation.
But today, 32-year-old father James Jessop tells me he and his wife are weary. The couple has 5 children in four different foster care facilities.
State child protection officials say they've tried to keep family groups together. But that is not the case with the Jessops.
The kids are spread from Houston to Abileen. The Jessops figure that a single visit to each child is an 18-hundred mile journey.
James Jessop also has two other children by two other wives. He plans to be back in court when each of those cases are scheduled.
Jessop firmly believes the state has attacked the sect for its religious beliefs. But he is among parents who now say they will do anything the state requires to get his children back.
Hearing's underway in courtroom B in San Angelo, Texas. The purpose is to review the state's "family service plans" outlining what parents need to do to get their families back, and to make sure the parents understand what the state is requiring. The state says the plans are tools to help family reunification.
Judge Thomas Gosset presided over one mother, Nora Jeffs, the mother of 8 minor children. All the cases were grouped into one, as they had the same mother.
Child Protective Services (CPS) child case worker Irene Schweneger (SP?) takes the stand.
One problem, the caseworker says, that the state is looking to remedy is that all 8 of her children have been placed in different parts of the state. Ms. Jeffs has been driving all over Texas to visit them.
CPS says it is aware that some health issues have popped up while the children have been in CPS care. The youngest child, a 1- 1/2 year old boy, has had various illnesses including minor ear infections, but the child required hospitalization. Unsure why.
Why did the state have to take all of the kids when it raided the polygamous sect's ranch in West Texas? Come Monday, the state of Texas will have to start explaining itself one child at a time as these 400-plus custody cases go before judges in San Angelo. Frustrations abound in this case. Families say many of the girls in custody who are pregnant or have already given birth are actually adults. State investigators say they continue to get conflicting information when they ask about ages and try to match kids to their biological parents. Attorneys representing the kids say the state won't give them the information they need. No one is happy and no one has any idea how all this will end. Judges start to try and make sense of it all on Monday when each mother and father begin to find out what the state says they will have to do if they want to get their children back.