AUSTIN -- As both sides waited for word Tuesday on whether the Texas Supreme Court would allow children seized from a polygamist ranch last month to return to their families, lawyers for Child Protective Services warned that if the agency were forced to give up custody, adults from the sect might flee the state.
But a spokeswoman for the legal aid organization seeking to reunite many of the more than 460 youngsters from the YFZ (Yearning For Zion) Ranch with their families called the argument baseless. The children were rounded up after CPS officials said members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) at the West Texas ranch forced minor girls into marriages with older men.
"There's no evidence these parent wish to flee, they only want to be with their children," said Cynthia Martinez of the Austin-based Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid.
Status of the case
Last week, the Texas Third Court of Appeals ruled that CPS had overreached its authority by taking all of the children living at the ranch near Eldorado from their families. It also said that the district court in San Angelo erred when it gave CPS temporary custody because the agency failed to show that all of the youngsters were in immediate danger of being abused.
The trial court was instructed to set aside the order placing the children in state-sanctioned foster homes.
The state agency followed by asking the Supreme Court to allow the children to remain in custody while the court considered arguments on the appeal of the Third Court’s decision that CPS overreached.
Both sides submitted additional documents to the Supreme Court on Tuesday. In addition to arguing that sect members might flee with their children to Utah, Colorado or Arizona, where the FLDS has other outposts, lawyers for CPS also warned that the youngsters would be under the care of adults who either condone or take part in sexual abuse of minors.
And they reasserted their claim that FLDS members have engaged in "a conspiracy of silence" to prevent investigators from fully examining conditions at the ranch.
Rio Grande Legal Aid, which is representing a group of FLDS mothers, countered that the state is well aware of many of the family relationships from the ranch.
The criminal case
Texas law enforcement officials say they plan to pursue charges of sexual abuse but have not named any suspects. The case before the Supreme Court is a civil matter.
The next step
A spokesman for the supreme court said the nine justices have requested all of the filings from the lower courts in the case and is expected to act as swiftly as possible because the safety of children is the central issue.