SAN ANGELO, Texas On the same day that an Austin appeals court delivered a humiliating blow to the custody case involving hundreds of children taken from the Fundamentalist LDS Church's YFZ Ranch, a San Antonio court took another shot.
The 4th Court of Appeals denied a request by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services to delay a hearing scheduled this morning over the planned separation of Lori Jessop and her 1-year-old son, Joseph Steed Jessop Jr.
The court will instead hear the couple's request to allow her to stay with the infant.
Texas Child Protective Services lawyers are challenging a judge's decision to issue a temporary restraining order, stopping the separation that was scheduled for May 15, when the boy turned 1.
The judge had also ordered the government agency to disclose the locations of Jessop's other children Zianna Glo, 4, and Joseph Edson Jessop, 2 and allow daily visits with them.
"The writ of habeas corpus is one of the most precious of all legal protections, designed to protect people from illegal restrain by the government," said Rene Haas, a lawyer for the father, Joseph Steed Jessop Sr.
In its filing to stall today's hearing, attorneys for the Texas department essentially said Judge Michael Peder stepped on another court's authority.
"This is an extraordinary case involving a collateral assault of a child protection court of dominant jurisdiction by a sister court attempting to exercise habeas corpus jurisdiction in a case involving three children, two of who are not in Bexar County, Texas," Michael Shulman wrote in his response.
He attached a statement of facts, repeating what Texas CPS has claimed is happening on the ranch a pervasive pattern of sex abuse with young girls growing up to become child brides and young boys growing up to become sexual predators.
Journal entries and interviews with children, CPS says in the court documents, indicated numerous girls who were mothers at age 16 and one who was 13 when she conceived a child. In court hearings, attorneys have attacked the number of pregnant or underage mothers. Texas CPS officials have conceded that many are actually adults. A 14-year-old girl on the list was not pregnant or even a mother, her attorney said in court.
However, one case involving a 17-year-old girl with a 14-month-old was recently brought up in court. The hearing was continued because the girl is pregnant and due to give birth soon. A spokesman for the FLDS Church has told the Deseret News there may be a few isolated cases of underage marriages, but it is not as widespread as Texas authorities believe.
The Jessops' case is just one of many beginning to hit the court system, challenging the mass decision to remove all of the children from the YFZ Ranch and place them in foster care.
The ruling in Austin's 3rd Court of Appeals declaring that CPS officials had acted improperly in removing all of the children has sent shock waves throughout the legal community, but it is unclear how it will affect these other cases.
Another motion was filed in San Antonio on behalf of three fathers, claiming their children are being illegally restrained and that Texas authorities knew going into the raid that the call prompting it was most likely a hoax.The fathers say there is no evidence their children were abused and they have been denied their rights to hearings and due process.