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CPS lawyers say court abused its discretion

AUSTIN — Less than a week after an appeals court ruled that Child Protective Services overreached its authority by seizing more than 460 children from a polygamist ranch in West Texas; lawyers for the state agency on Wednesday accused the court of abusing its discretion by issuing the ruling.

The counterpunch came as the state agency and lawyers representing a group of mothers from the polygamist ranch seeking to regain custody of their children wait for the Texas Supreme Court to decides which side is standing on firmer legal ground.

The latest development

The CPS lawyers took their swipe at the state’s Third Court of Appeals in a 19-page filing to the Texas Supreme Court where they reiterate their assertion that the children were in imminent danger of abuse when state authorities raided the ranch near Eldorado on April 3. They cited testimony given in state district court that described teenage girls being forced into “spiritual marriages” with older, previously married men and then encouraged to reproduce prodigiously.

That situation contributed to a climate of sexual abuse that passed from generation to generation at the ranch run by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, the court filing said. The lawyers again asked the state’s highest appeals court to set aside the Third Court’s ruling that would return the children to their families.

The lawyers said that the Third Court had given too much weight to assertions by FLDS members that the state had failed to demonstrate each child removed from the ranch was likely to be abused.

Clarifying a legal point

Cynthia Martinez, a spokeswoman for the legal aid organization that represents the group of FLDS mothers in the case, said a lawyer for the organization misspoke last week when she said the Third Court’s ruling gave the state 10 days to return the youngsters to their families.

“It’s often customary for an appeals court to give a 10-day window for a case like this, but in this case there was none,” said Martinez, representing Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid. “So [the lawyer] made an assumption that turned out to be untrue.”

What’s next?

The Texas Supreme Court gave no indication when it would make a ruling in the case. The court has instructed the lawyers for the FLDS families to respond by Thursday morning to the state’s most recent filing.