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Cases for seven children from one family, five from another and at least two fathered by polygamous sect leader Warren S. Jeffs are among those set for court Monday as the next phase begins in the largest child welfare action in United States history.
In all, attorneys for at least 35 children or their parents will converge on the Tom Green County Courthouse in San Angelo, Texas, for the first day of mandatory status hearings that continue through June 4.
Judge Barbara Walther, who in mid-April ordered the state to take custody of some 463 children from the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, has enlisted four other judges to help handle what are supposed to be routine updates.
However, attorneys frustrated by Walther's decision to treat the children as a group in April and later refusal to hear individual motions for their clients say they will make those arguments now at the status hearings.
"If individual children were wrongfully swept up in this raid because they have been neither abused nor neglected, the ongoing injustice to them is an unnecessary and indescribable tragedy," said Polly R. O'Toole, a Dallas attorney who represents one child.
Some attorneys are outraged by identical family service plans crafted by Texas Child Protective Services for each child.
"They are still relying on the 'one household' theory," objects Laura Shockley, a Dallas attorney who represents a minor of disputed age and several other children.
The plans describe physical, sexual and emotional abuse the state says children taken from the sect's YFZ Ranch experienced.
That evidence: a "large number" of girls ages 14 to 17 who have children or are pregnant; "several" instances of broken bones that are suspicious for physical abuse or neglect; "possible" sexual abuse of young boys; apparent exclusion of older boys from the ranch; a "pattern of deception" in disclosing family relationships; and concerns about the children's homeschooling.
The department has said that 31 of 53 girls ages 14 to 17 are pregnant or mothers but has not released specifics. The group includes five teenagers and 26 women whose ages are in dispute -- two of whom the state now agrees are adults.
Pamela Jessop, who gave birth April 29 to her second child, was listed as "15 or 16" in a May filing related to taking custody of her newborn. A different document, filed in April, had said she was 18, as officials now acknowledge.
They also agree Louisa Jessop, who gave birth last Monday to her third child, is 22 years old.
Both women are in monogamous marriages and their attorneys say none of the state's allegations fit their situations.
But the state, as laid out in the service plans, maintains that the couples and other FLDS parents "have chosen to be members of a community that appears to support systemic abuse of children." And CPS workers have the backing of Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who praised them last week for handling the complex case "professionally and compassionately."
Fighting for individual treatment.
The plans lay out a year-long process for being reunited with their children, identifying dozens of issues the parents must address. The plans warn that failure to cooperate could result in their children being placed in permanent state custody or put up for adoption.
Rene Haas, a Corpus Christi attorney and former district judge, said nothing in the en masse hearing before Walther or in the allegations laid out in the service plans pertains to her clients, Joseph and Lori Jessop, ages 27 and 25. They are the monogamous parents of three children ages 1 to 4.
"In this situation we don't have any immediate harm to the little children but they were taken anyway," Haas said, criticizing the mass removal of children.
"There were ways to effect change in this organization that did not include harming these children," Haas said.
Haas is among the attorneys who have had success getting some concessions from judges outside of Tom Green County. She was able, for example, to get daily visits for the couple with their children and to bar the state from separating Lori from her youngest son, who turned 1 on Thursday and is still nursing.
Walther had ordered that mothers could stay with nursing children only if they were younger than 12 months.
No quick homecoming.
While some attorneys plan to mount challenges during the status hearings, they concede chances any children now in group homes and shelters across Texas will be returned to their parents is unlikely.
"Anybody that has that hope is dreaming a good dream," Shockley said.
She said some disputed minors have been questioned during the past week by CPS and Texas Rangers without approval of their attorneys. The questions appeared aimed at building criminal cases and centered on ages and relationships among household members, she said.
"It is an absolute constitutional atrocity," she said.
She also believes the questioning is perhaps as a prelude to classifying more of the girls as adults or "aged out" foster care placements.