SAN ANGELO, Texas Pamela Jeffs Jessop's eyes sparkled and she smiled as she walked out of the courthouse Friday.
"I love to be with my children," she said meekly.
The 18-year-old has secured a few more rights over her newborn baby than other members of the Fundamentalist LDS Church have over their children, her attorneys said Friday.
Jessop was in court for a hearing over the custody of her baby boy, born April 29. It was to be an adversarial hearing, where Texas child welfare officials entered evidence of abuse and sought to retain sole custody of her baby.
"We have reached an agreement," said Eric Tai, a lawyer for the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. He announced in court. "The department will be a temporary conservator of baby boy Jeffs. Since the mom is under 21, she will be placed with both of her children in a place to be determined."
Jessop was also named a possessor and a conservator over her child, said her attorney, Natalie Malonis.
"It's a rather large victory," Malonis said Friday. "A possessor and a conservator under the family code has certain rights that, as far as I know, none of the other parents are enjoying right now. She has rights to information, and rights to participate in the child's life and those are enforceable rights."
But Jessop's battle to win custody of her two children is just beginning. As she sat in court, she was served with papers by a constable, notifying her of the upcoming status hearings for her children.
Texas Child Protective Services workers were expected to file family service plans in court late Friday, outlining what parents must do to be reunited with their children.
"The judges will be looking at the plans of service. There will be discussion regarding what the agency and parents are trying to do together in an attempt to have the children safely returned to the parents' care at some point," said Marleigh Meisner, a spokeswoman for the government agency.
The hearings, which will involve five judges and nearly all of the time for Tom Green County Courthouse's employees, are scheduled to begin Monday. Texas child welfare authorities have 464 children in state custody from the raid on the FLDS Church's YFZ Ranch. The children currently are being housed in foster care facilities scattered across the state.
The raid began April 3 when someone claiming to be a 16-year-old girl called a family crisis shelter hotline here, saying she was pregnant and in an abusive polygamous marriage to a 49-year-old man. When authorities responded, they said they found evidence of other abuse, although the person who made the call was not identified.
That led a judge to order the removal of all of the children from the ranch. Authorities are still investigating if the original call was a hoax.
In family service plans obtained by the Deseret News, Texas CPS officials allege there is a culture on the YFZ Ranch where girls grow up to become child brides, and boys grow up to become sexual perpetrators.
Friday, Judge Barbara Walther presented a new concern for attorneys to wrangle over as they prepare for the hearings. She worried about lawyers representing children even those no longer deemed to be children and adults within the FLDS community at the same time, which could potentially raise conflict of interest issues.
"If you have one, you can't have the other," the judge said, citing Texas court rulings about attorney conflicts.
With such deeply intertwined families coming from a communal-style living environment, the attorneys realized the potential problems as the custody case moves forward. One attorney told the judge it could pose a significant problem for the entire case.
Mary Golder, appointed to represent five FLDS children in state custody, said she has worked hard to build relationships with her clients.
"These people do not trust us on a good day and to have to find somebody else ... ," she told the judge. "I'm the evil gentile. I'm used to being called that."
At the same time she presented the problem, Judge Walther seemed to have found the solution. She left the bench while attorneys huddled over the proposed solution.
"The guardian ad litems are willing to waive a conflict with the understanding that if problems arise, they will be addressed," said Debra Brown, the court-appointed Special Advocate in the case. "We will ask attorneys not to represent mothers and their children or adults and their sister-wives in one family unit."
Hundreds of lawyers have volunteered their time to represent the FLDS mothers and children."Ideally in any case, you want a different lawyer for everybody," said Golder. "This is just such a unique case all the way around."
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