SAN ANGELO, Texas The devil was in the details.
Discussions about a proposed order involving the return of children taken from the Fundamentalist LDS Church's YFZ Ranch broke down late this afternoon when attorneys for the families wanted to review proposed changes with their clients.
Judge Barbara Walther announced the attorneys had better get all of their clients' signatures before she would sign the agreement and abruptly left the bench late this afternoon.
A lawyer for the families, Laura Shockley, said she expected attorneys would return to an Austin appeals court Monday to push for an order returning the children. It was the 3rd Court of Appeals that said Walther should not have ordered the children to be removed from the ranch and warned that if Walther failed to act, they would do it for her.
Lawyers for the families said that an agreement had been tentatively reached with Child Protective Services when they walked into court earlier today. Walther, however, expressed concerns about the proposed agreement and called an hourlong recess. She then returned to the bench with her own proposed order.
That led to concerns from many family attorneys who raised objections and questions on behalf of their clients.
The judge added additional restrictions to the the agreement, including psychological evaluations and allowing CPS to do inspections at the children's home at any time. Several of the more than 100 attorneys in the courtroom and patched into the hearing through phone lines objected to the judge's additions.
"The court does not have the power, with all due respect, to enter any other order (other than vacating)," said Julie Balovich of the Texas RioGrande Legal Aid over the telephone. She argued that no evidence justifying the additional restrictions had been entered as evidence before the judge.
After reviewing the appellate court decision, Walther returned to the bench and announced she believed the Supreme Court's decision upholding the appellate court decision gave her the authority to impose whatever conditions she feels are necessary.
"The Supreme Court does say this court can place restrictions on the parents. I do not read that this decision says that this court is required to have another hearing to do that. You may interpret that however you choose."
With that, the judge abruptly left the bench, saying she would await any submitted orders.
Immediately, attorneys in the courtroom and over the phone, expressed confusion.
"What did she say?" one attorney asked.
"Do We have another hearing?"
"What did she order?"
No additional hearings are currently scheduled. The judge signed no orders that would allow for the release of any children.
Lawyers for CPS left the courthouse declining to speak about the hearing."I'm going to do what the court directed," said CPS attorney Gary Banks.