ELDORADO, Texas On the same day that Texas child welfare workers were dealt a humiliating blow by an Austin appeals court over custody of hundreds of children, a San Antonio court took another shot at them.
The 4th Court of Appeals this afternoon denied a request by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services to delay a hearing scheduled for Friday over the planned separation of Lori Jessop, 25, 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.
The state challenged a judge's decision to issue a temporary restraining order to halt the separation of a mother and her child taken from the Fundamentalist LDS Church's YFZ Ranch. The separation was scheduled for May 15, when the boy turned 1. Texas officials have allowed mothers of children under 1 to remain with them in foster facilities.
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.
"This is a truly shocking development. The writ of habeas corpus is one of the most precious of all legal protections, designed to protect people from illegal restraint by the government," said Rene Haas, a lawyer for the father, Joseph Steed Jessop Sr. "The Texas Constitution says that it can never be suspended. Yet, the department wants to prevent a judge from
deciding the legality of the restraint of these children. Absolutely amazing."
In its filing, attorneys for the Texas DFPS 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 whom are not in Bexar County, Texas," Michael Shulman wrote in his response.
He attached a statement of facts, repeating what Texas Child Protective Services 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 claims 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 playing out in San Angelo, attorneys have attacked the number of pregnant or underage mothers. 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 claimed 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 minors having children, 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. (See related story.)
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.
The raid on the FLDS compound began April 3 when authorities responded to a call from someone claiming to be a 16-year-old girl, pregnant and in an abusive marriage to a 49-year-old man. When law enforcement and child welfare workers responded, they said they saw signs of other abuse including other pregnant minors.
That prompted a judge to order the removal of all of the children from the property. They are now in foster care facilities across Texas.
Outside the YFZ Ranch on Thursday, the wind howled and kicked up clouds of dust. There were many smiles as people came back from court hearings that had abruptly been canceled 45 miles away in San Angelo.
The FLDS had feared a second raid by CPS, who attempted twice to get on the ranch Wednesday to search for what they believed were more children living on the property. They have been accompanied each time by a Schleicher County sheriff's deputy. Sheriff David Doran told the Deseret News his office was merely assisting in a civil process matter, referring all other inquiries to CPS.A CPS spokeswoman said she did not know if they would return to the ranch today.