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SAN ANGELO, Texas - Attorneys from every corner of Texas are here to represent the 416 children seized from a polygamous sect in a hearing to decide their near-term fate.
Today's custody hearing - unprecedented because of its size - is to begin at 10 a.m. (CDT) before 51st District Court Judge Barbara Walther. It will be held in the Tom Green County Courthouse, but the City Hall Auditorium one block away will serve as an overflow courtroom linked by closed circuit television.
Both courtrooms are expected to be packed with attorneys, media, and parents from the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints who want to take their children home to YFZ Ranch 45 miles south of here.
The judge must make a key decision early on in the hearing: whether due process requires each child to have a separate hearing. Child Protective Services attorneys have said they intended to present a single case covering all of the children - an approach that attorneys for the parents are likely to reject.
Guy Choate, a San Angelo attorney helping to coordinate volunteer attorneys, predicted the cases will be handled en masse.
"It's clearly impossible to have 416 hearings," he said. "These kids could turn 21 by the time we finished."
A Texas Department of Families and Protective Services spokeswoman said attorneys will present evidence of abuse to argue the children should go into foster care.
Attorneys for the parents will argue for the children to be returned home, but it's possible state-appointed attorneys representing the children themselves and their interests will make their arguments in writing, Choate said.
Those attorneys have been meeting with the children in custody at the San Angelo Coliseum and Pavilion this week. Some were expected to visit the FLDS Ranch on Wednesday.
Choate and others are hosting the crowds of visiting, volunteer attorneys. San Angelo, a city of 88,000, has no more motel rooms available, said Choate, who has three staying with him. "There are going to be 20 on my block alone," he said.
* When: Today at 10 a.m. (CDT).
* Where: Tom Green County Courthouse, but the City Hall Auditorium one block away will serve as an overflow courtroom linked by closed circuit television.