Children from a West Texas polygamist sect could be headed home as soon as Tuesday if a judge signs an agreement hammered out by lawyers Sunday.
More than 20 lawyers met for several hours Sunday afternoon in San Angelo to forge an agreement that would allow 430 children from the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints to reunite with their parents and return to the YFZ Ranch near Eldorado this week. They plan to present the agreement to state District Judge Barbara Walther today.
"If she signs the order that we worked on [Sunday], it provides for the kids to start being picked up 24 hours after she signs it," said Dallas attorney Laura Shockley, who attended the meeting.
"I’m hopeful that she’s going to sign it, but I was hopeful on Friday, too," said Shockley, who represents three adults and three children from the sect.
Walther left court Friday without signing an agreement after lawyers said she had no leeway to add restrictions to the order. Walther wanted to add several provisions that included giving the state Child Protective Services more time to investigate. The judge then told the attorneys that if they presented her with an agreement signed by all their clients, she would approve it.
The case, believed to be largest child custody case in U.S. history, started when state authorities raided the FLDS compound beginning April 3 after a crisis hot line received calls claiming that an underage girl was forced into marriage and sexually abused. Those calls are now believed to have been a hoax.
The parents then filed suit in Walther’s court — a case that eventually made its way to the Texas Supreme Court.
The case was sent back to Walther late last week after both the 3rd Court of Appeals and the Texas Supreme Court ruled in Austin that the CPS had no basis for taking all of the children from the ranch during the raid. An order was made to return the youngsters to their parents.
After Friday’s hearing, several lawyers had threatened to file a new legal challenge with the 3rd Court of Appeals, claiming Walther wasn’t following the order.
CPS spokeswoman Marleigh Meisner declined to comment about Sunday’s meeting.
The proposed agreement would allow parents to begin picking up their children at more than a dozen foster care shelters across the state. Almost all the children could go home.
The Texas Department of Public Safety has said a criminal investigation is continuing.