Media outlets are reporting the Texas judge hearing the case has ruled all 416 children must remain in State custody.  Frankly I am dumbfounded.

The Salt Lake Tribune reports:

SAN ANGELO, Texas – A judge has ruled all 416 FLDS children will remain in state custody, and that the state has met its burden of proof to justify the ruling in every way.

The judge told the parents they may have restrictions or lose permanent custody of their children if they don’t agree to provide a safe environment for them. She also ordered maternity and paternity testing of both mothers and fathers.

Many parents dropped their heads in sadness and walked out, one by one, upon hearing the verdict. Richard, an FLDS father of seven children in state custody who declined to provide his last name, said :”It’s just a continuation of a bad thing.”

There was conflicting testimony in the case about whether some underage girls were pregnant or had given birth.  For those young girls, assuming they are underage–I can see how the judge might reach that ruling; however, there was no evidence to support such a sweeping ruling for all 416 children to remain in state custody.

Attorneys visibly shaken by the ruling:

An attorney representing two children, ages 8 and 9, left the city hall auditorium in tears. Deborah Cascino said she had mixed feelings about the judge’s order.

“I just feel sorry for the parents, and I feel sorry for the children,” said Cascino, who has been a family lawyer for four years and said she knows parents always want their children back.

Whether the judge made the right ruling, she said, only time will tell.

Interesting reaction from one of the actual litigators.

MSNBC reports:

SAN ANGELO, Texas – A Texas judge on Friday ordered that all 416 children taken from a polygamist compound in West Texas remain in state custody and undergo DNA testing, NBC News reported.

In testimony Friday, two mothers admitted that they knew of underage marriages and births at the ranch, which authorities raided two weeks ago.

Lucille Nielson said she was nearly 20 when she got married but knows of roughly a dozen girls younger than 18 who were married at the YFZ Ranch in Eldorado. Another mother admitted that her sisters had children old enough to demonstrate they were married before age 18

Nothing yet from the Deseret News, though I expect something shortly.  CNN has yet to post something on their website as well.  There are media reports of the testimony elicited today, which I will post as soon as I can; however, nothing I saw, even the testimony that there were some underage or young marriages, in my mind justifies Texas holding all 416 children.  Thank heavens for appellate review.

CNN is going live with Larry King reporting on the ruling from Texas.   This ought to be another biased program mocking and slamming the FLDS community.

Part of the ruling requires DNA paternity and maternity testing.  This will certainly connect the dots of the family relationships.

The Deseret News now reports:

SAN ANGELO, Texas — A Texas judge ruled Friday evening that all of the 416 children taken from the YFZ Ranch will remain in temporary state custody.

The ruling followed a marathon two-day hearing that included hundreds of lawyers.

During earlier testimony Friday, a 29-year-old polygamist mother testified today that she would be willing to do anything the court required if she could regain custody of her 7-year-old daughter.

Merilyn Jeffs told the court she would be willing to leave the YFZ Ranch and is capable of supporting herself, if that is what it takes to be reunited with Marva. Under questioning by her attorney, Merilyn Jeffs, who was born in Utah, said she would never allow her daughter to be married until she reached the age of 18.

For herself, she did not marry until age 20 and was “absolutely not” coerced into the union.

Under cross-examination by the state’s attorney, Merilyn Jeffs’ answers became measured and slow, and were given with some reluctance. Although she testified that she has a 19-year-old sister who is married, she said she didn’t know when the marriage took place.

When the attorney asked if she knew how her sister was married, she replied, “After it’s done, they come and we congratulate them.”

Clearly the mothers were making the case by throwing themselves at the court’s mercy, agreeing to do anything at all, including moving away from the FLDS ranch to keep their children.  That is incredibly powerful testimony coming from a group that has been so cohesive and closed to the outside world.

Warren Jeffs himself may be called to testify, with the judge from the bench indicating she would have him served with papers:

During earlier testimony today, Susan Richardson, an attorney representing one of the children seized in the raid, said FLDS leader Warren Jeffs may be called to testify because he fathered her client.

Richardson today began questioning religion expert Robert Walsh about the personal and religious views of Jeffs when it comes to unions of underage girls to older men.

The attorney asked if Jeffs’ personal practices of uniting young girls with adult men differed from the traditional habits of the Fundamentalist LDS Church.

When another defense attorney objected to the relevancy, saying Jeffs was in prison, Richardson countered, saying it was relevant because “he is the father of a child I represent.”

The judge then interjected, asking if that meant that Jeffs needed to be served with court papers because it may mean he could be a party to the case. Richardson said yes.

Carolyn Jessop, self anointed FLDS critic interview by Larry King says she is relieved.  She also admits that many innocent mothers will suffer as a result of this ruling.

Susan Hays, an attorney for some children said on Larry King she was not really surprised at the ruling, even though I am.   She pointed out, however, this is only step two in a long process.  I’ve seen Ms. Hays before in interviews and she is quite articulate and knowledgable.  She points out how hard this will be on the siblings and that she is quite concerned with them, and how the ruling might affect them.  I share that concern.

More from the Deseret News article on testimony from the state’s expert psychologist:

Also on Friday, a leading child trauma psychologist for Texas testified that the situation with 416 FLDS children who have been taken into state custody is a “lose-lose situation.”

Bruce Perry, senior fellow at the Child Trauma Academy, an organization that works in cooperation with a multitude of state government agencies to counsel traumatized children, was one of the state’s chief witnesses today in the custody hearing for the children seized during a raid on the Fundamentalist LDS ranch.

Perry said that if the children who were on the YFZ Ranch were kept in custody there would have to be “exceptional and innovative programmic elements in place.”

Perry also said the FLDS children should remain in custody because they are either victims of sexual assault, potential victims of sexual assault or potential perpetrators.

But under cross-examination, Perry conceded that there is no one-size-fits-all solution. In fact, Perry admitted that “the traditional foster care system would be destructive to these kids.”

This was powerful testimony, from the state’s expert, that I think supported the parents, frankly. He concedes that keeping these children in custody will require exceptional and innovative programs on the part of Texas.  Frankly, from how Texas has handled this case thus far, I am not hopeful that will occur.  The other bit of testimony from him that cut against the state was his admission that continued traditional foster care will be destructive to these children.  He all but admitted these kids are going to lose by staying with Texas.

Finishing the state’s expert’s testmony:

When asked which option would be best for the children — a return to the ranch, placement in the foster system or remaining in the coliseum where they are now — he said none were acceptable.

He said to return to the ranch would be detrimental, even for the young boys because it is a “special place, it reinforces their beliefs.”

While admitting that the young boys are not at immediate risk for physical abuse he said they would be subject to emotional and psychological harm

Overall, he said, the least vulnerable of the group are the young babies.

Incredible testimony that neither placement in foster care, remaining in the coliseum of returning to their homes would be good for these children.  What?  We should just beam them up Scottie?  How is in not better for those children not at risk for unlawful sexual behavior, i.e. all males and all females under 11 or 12, to be returned to loving homes, mothers and fathers?

CNN now has a report on their website as well:

SAN ANGELO, Texas (CNN) — Hundreds of children who were taken from a polygamist ranch by Texas child welfare authorities will remain in state custody, a judge ruled Friday night.

Judge Barbara Walther also ordered court DNA testing for all 416 children who lived at the YFZ (Yearning For Zion) Ranch in Eldorado to determine their biological parents.

The compound is run by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — a Mormon offshoot that practices polygamy.

Walther made her ruling after two days of testimony at a hearing to determine whether the children were properly removed by child welfare authorities.

Walther said she found sufficient evidence for Texas Child Protective Services to keep custody of the children.

“We’re a little disappointed in what the process turned out to be,” said Cody Towns, a Dallas, Texas, attorney representing some of the children, who said he planned to appeal the ruling.

I am pleased to see at least one attorney talking about an appeal.  I trust and hope there will be more as more media coverage emerges.

The defense LDS/Mormon expert called to rebut some of the state’s case testified that the underage marraige is uncommon amongst the FLDS.  He also address the “sex” bed in the temple:

Earlier in the day, a defense witness testified that it is uncommon for a polygamist sect to force girls as young as 13 into marriage, as the state alleged.

Religious scholar John Walsh also addressed a particularly damning piece of evidence: At least one bed found inside a temple that was allegedly used to consummate such marriages immediately after the ceremony.

“Historically, the only use of a bed in a temple is for temple worship itself,” said Walsh, who said he has studied the FLDS practices for 18 years. “The worship lasts a couple of hours, so all the temples will have a place where someone can lie down.”

But, he said, “To my knowledge, there has never been any sexual activity in a Mormon temple.”

Oh well, there goes that piece of fiction shouted from the housetops by the medial for days and days as though it were a proven conclusive fact that the LDS had marriage sexual consummation rights right in the temple.  Of course it was nonsense when it was first reported, but true to form much of the media won’t let the facts stand in the way of their sensational reporting.

The New York Times is just now reporting the AP version of the story:

Filed at 9:33 p.m. ET

SAN ANGELO, Texas (AP) — The more than 400 children taken from a ranch run by a polygamous sect will stay in state custody and be subject to genetic testing to sort out family relationships that have confounded welfare authorities, a judge ruled Friday.

State District Judge Barbara Walther heard 21 hours of testimony over two days before ruling that the children would be kept in custody while the state continues to investigate allegations of abuse stemming from the teachings of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

”This is but the beginning,” Walther said. Individual hearings will be set for the children over the next several weeks.

This is a minor bright spot here.  As I am unfamiliar with Texas civil procedure in child custody hearings, I don’ t know what all the steps are in the process, and in what order the occur.   The Family Law statutes do contemplate a hearing for each child, and it is good to read reports that will eventually happen. I think that is going to be the stage at which some of these children will be coming back home to their families.

The San Angelo paper also reports some interesting details on the judge’s ruling:

Judge Barbara Walther at about 7:30 p.m. today issued a decision that all 416 children removed from the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints compound near Eldorado will remain in state custody for the time being.

Marleigh Meisner of Texas Child Protective Services said the children will be placed in foster homes pending hearings, which the judge said will take place before June 5.

Walther wound up two long days of testimony with the ruling. She ordered maternity and paternity testing for each child. On Monday, a mobile lab at the fairgrounds will being taking DNA samples of all the children and mothers there.

Tim Edwards, a San Angelo attorney who represented some of the mothers, said he was disappointed with the decision.

“This was a very difficult situation for everyone,” he said.

So, the children will be placed in foster homes–sad indeed–but perhaps better than a large coliseum–I don’t know.  I worry about them splitting up the siblings.  I also worry about their exposure to such a different way of life, one in many ways is devoid of many of the morals and religious teachings this children have been taught all their lives.

It is again good to read further, and I assume, individual hearings will be taking place, prior to June 5.

Here’s another brief summary of the judge’s final comments from the bench, again from the San Angelo paper:

7:29 p.m. — Court reconvenes.

The judge thanks all members of the bar for their work and cooperation.

She announces her decision that the children should not return to the ranch.

She says this is the beginning. Hearings will begin June 5, but they will not be en mass. The court orders maternity and paternity testing for each child.

On Monday, a mobile lab at the fairgrounds will test the DNA of all the children and mothers there.

Parents are entitled to an attorney, whether or not they can afford it, she notes.

For now, it’s over.

Well, it’s over for those who can go home tonight to their loved ones, their families, their children, or their parents as the case may be.  But, it’s far from over for those innocent mothers who have done nothing wrong other than have an unpopular religious belief.  It’s also far from over for those innocent boys and girls who have literally been ripped from the only people they have ever loved, in a most abusive and caustic manner.

What’s good about this?  Well, again, a sliver of light is the fact all parents will be entitled to legal counsel.  All children will be entitled to individual hearings.  What, however, can be done in the interim.  While, I’m certain even West Texas allows appellate review, I’m not certain how successful it might be.  We shall see.

The Los Angeles Times reports:

By Jenny Jarvie and DeeDee Correll, Los Angeles Times Staff Writers

6:45 PM PDT, April 18, 2008

SAN ANGELO, TEXAS — A judge ruled this evening that 416 children seized by authorities during a raid on a polygamous sect’s compound are at risk of sexual abuse if they stay with the group and must be placed into foster care.

Texas District Judge Barbara L. Walther’s ruling came after a chaotic, two-day hearing that featured several hundred lawyers and two buildings filled with witnesses, reporters and members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, a sect that broke away from the Mormon Church in the 1930s. Its members believe in divinely inspired, underage polygamous marriage.

I need to take a break and let some of this sink in.  I suppose another good thing about all of this is that perhaps, just perhaps, the FLDS will now re-consider at least the underage aspect of marriage in their lifestyle.  This just cannot be worth that part of how ever many people actually practice that.  If we are to believe what the FLDS claim, and their court expert, it is a rare occassion that the underage marriages occurr.  But, if they occur at all, it is too often.  I can see no justification to continue such a practice, particularly given the extremely high price it has exacted from the entire community, mothers, fathers and children all.

Previous FLDS Raid Posts

Other coverage of note:

DMI and also here

Sixteen Small Stones

Mormanity and Here

Conglomerate (Legal Blog)

Texas ACLU (They are monitoring the situation–I hope they begin to do more than monitor)

The Polygamy Files (Brooke Adams’ blog entry on the ruling–she was there–good insights)

Appendix Red State (A blogger and commentor who has followed the story, with some great links)

The Local Crank (Texas Family Lawyer)