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FLDS parents in Texas whose children were taken away, and who must provide DNA samples, deserve independent, separate hearings before a judge -- a constitutional right that has been denied to them, a Utah attorney says.
"On the state side, they want to put on one case," said Rod Parker, of Salt Lake City, who represents some of the FLDS families. "On the parents' side, they want to put on 400 cases. And there isn't really a mechanism to do that."
But the legal and logistical challenges of affording every parent due process must not jeopardize their right to be fairly represented and heard, he said.
"Just because they're all part of a group doesn't mean you put the group on trial - the church on trial," Parker said Wednesday during a panel discussion at a Salt Lake County Bar Association luncheon. "The constitutional rights of these people are individual rights."
Their plight should alert the rest of the country that its civil liberties could just as easily be endangered, said Ed Firmage, University of Utah emeritus law professor who joined Parker and Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff for the discussion.
"What has been done could have the same result in the Salt Lake City temple, or a mosque, or a ward, or a parish," he said.
Acting on a call from a person who claimed to be a 16-year-old girl who had been abused by her husband, Texas Rangers raided the YFZ Ranch in Eldorado on April 3. The Texas Child Protective Services took custody of 437 children and ordered them and all the adults in the community to submit DNA samples to sort out family relationships.
"To coerce a DNA sample from every single person - man, woman and child - in that community is unconstitutional," Parker said.
Colorado authorities said Wednesday that at least one call to a Texas domestic crisis hot line was linked to a Colorado Springs woman.
Earlier, Texas officials said they had not found the girl, who used the name "Sarah." But that became immaterial when investigators found evidence of sexual and physical abuse, CPS spokeswoman Marleigh Meisner said. She described "Sarah" as a metaphor for the young women who were being abused and impregnated.
Firmage, however, said that to base the state's actions on such a metaphor is "stupid and outrageously unconstitutional," Firmage said. "I cannot imagine people who have waged wars over metaphors."
Shurtleff said he agrees that the raid on the YFZ Ranch - and the subsequent legal proceedings - have been mishandled.
But Texas authorities, Shurtleff argued, had to find and protect a girl they believed was in imminent danger. Only such a plea for help gave authorities reason to go enter the ranch's locked gate, he said. "Texas waited three-and-a-half years until they had probable cause to do it."
The next legal step for the FLDS families, Parker said, is unclear. Because so many lawyers are involved, many options are being considered, including seeking relief from the Texas appellate and federal courts.