SAN ANGELO, Texas Lawyers for a group of mothers whose children were rounded up in the raid on the Fundamentalist LDS Church's YFZ Ranch have a 9 a.m. deadline.
The Texas Supreme Court requested a response today by two legal aid groups representing FLDS mothers seeking to have their children returned to them. The high court is deciding whether to uphold or reject a decision by an Austin appellate court that orders the return of more than 100 children to 41 mothers.
"We're dedicated to representing these women throughout this process," said Cynthia Martinez of the Texas RioGrande Legal Aid Society, which is representing 38 FLDS mothers. "If the court needs a response by 9 a.m., they'll get a response by 9 a.m."
Austin's 3rd Court of Appeals ruled the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services improperly removed more than 450 children from the YFZ Ranch during the April raid. The department appealed last week's decision to the high court.
On Wednesday, Texas child welfare authorities filed another appeal and a request for an emergency stay in a case that mirrors the one filed by the 38 FLDS mothers. This latest case involves mothers Louisa Bradshaw, Gladys Mae Jessop and Marie Steed.
Dovetailing on the legal filing by the Texas RioGrande Legal Aid Society, lawyers for Bradshaw, Jessop and Steed sought to have their children returned. When the Austin appellate court ruled, it also granted the request by the three mothers.
"When the court granted theirs, they granted ours for the same reason," attorney John Kennedy with Legal Aid of Northwest Texas told the Deseret News Wednesday.
Texas child welfare authorities said there is a culture of abuse on the YFZ Ranch, with girls groomed to become child brides and boys growing up to be sexual predators. In its motion for an emergency stay, lawyers for the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services repeat their arguments that it still has not identified the parents of the FLDS children in custody.
"Louisa Bradshaw identified her children and husband," agency attorney Michael Shulman said in the filing. "Gladys Mae Jessop identified her children but not her husband or the father of her children. Marie Steed identified her children but not her husband or the father of her children."
Texas child welfare lawyers say that establishing those family links is critical to determining whether a home is safe from sexual predators.
"Failure to grant a stay will mean that approximately five children in this case will be returned to alleged mothers without any male sexual perpetrators being identified," Shulman wrote, renewing concerns that reunited families may flee Texas and have no supervision by the state to protect children from abuse.
Kennedy said his office was drafting a response. Lawyers for the 38 FLDS mothers have said in court filings that Texas authorities have already established family relationships, especially during marathon status hearings that laid out the terms for parents to be reunited with their children.
The hearings abruptly stopped when the appellate court issued its ruling. The status hearings, which help determine the best plan for reunification between parents and children, are running up against a statutory June 5 deadline but are being delayed again today pending the Supreme Court decision.
Meanwhile, the Texas Attorney General's Office said DNA test results are expected to come back by the end of this week or the first of next week. Those test results will help determine parentage in the complex custody case.
"The lab will send the results to the court as required by the court order," said Janece Rolfe, a spokeswoman for the attorney general's office.
Approximately 599 samples were collected from the FLDS children and their mothers who were being sheltered at the San Angelo Coliseum in the weeks following the raid. More parents showed up at the Schleicher County Memorial Building in Eldorado to provide a sample.
"Since the initial opportunity, there were four additional people who came forward, one woman and three men," Rolfe said, declining to say who provided a sample.
The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services said it needs the DNA samples to establish which child belongs to which parent. Lawyers for the parents have attacked that argument, saying that the ongoing court hearings and other documentation provided by their clients have made it clear who belongs with who.
Some have feared that the DNA results could be used to build criminal cases against FLDS members, something the Texas Attorney General's Office has declined to specifically address.
"The order requires the results to be provided to the court, which we will do," Rolfe said. "We are obligated to make the results available to all of the parties and their attorneys."The raid on the YFZ Ranch began April 3 when someone claiming to be a 16-year-old girl named "Sarah" called a family crisis shelter hotline here in San Angelo, claiming to be pregnant and in an abusive marriage to an older man. Authorities are still investigating whether that call is a hoax, but Texas Child Protective Services said it is what they found when they responded to the abuse call that led a judge to order the removal of all of the children.