SAN ANGELO, Texas Attorneys for an FLDS couple are frustrated over a breakdown of negotiations involving their custody case.
Joseph and Lori Jessop will be back in court Monday to ask a judge to give them "full possessory rights" to their three children. They're fighting to separate themselves from the massive Texas Child Protective Services case involving nearly 450 children from the Fundamentalist LDS Church.
"This couple, and two other families they are on a little different legal footing" than the others, said Teresa Kelly, a spokeswoman for the Jessops' attorney.
The Jessops won a temporary restraining order from a San Antonio court on May 13, preventing Texas CPS from separating their infant son from his mother when he turned 1 year old. CPS had only allowed mothers of children younger than 1 to remain with their children in foster facilities.
The court later granted the parents temporary custody of their three children until a June 9 hearing. Since then, the Texas Supreme Court ruled last week that CPS had improperly removed the children from their homes on the YFZ Ranch and all children have since been returned.
Now, the couple wants to be free of the conditions CPS has placed on all the families while the department continues to investigate allegations of sexual and physical abuse. But CPS attorneys won't negotiate with them for "full possessory rights," said attorney Rene Haas, who represents the Jessops.
"That means that no one from CPS has the right to come in on a daily basis and disrupt the family, or take the children to an unnamed place where unnamed personnel, for an unnamed period of time, can perform psychological or psychiatric evaluations, nor can law enforcement personnel take these children to an unnamed place for an unnamed period of time to question them without their parents being present," Haas said.
When all the children were returned to their parents earlier this week, Judge Barbara Walther in San Angelo imposed conditions on the release. One of those conditions requires parents to allow CPS access to their homes for unannounced visits between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. Child welfare officials may conduct medical, psychological or psychiatric examinations either inside the home or at "any other reasonable location," the order states.
Kelly argues there's no evidence against the Jessops of any abuse. Joseph Jessop has no other wife and the couple is monogamous. Some conditions were placed on the Jessops when their children were returned May 23, but Kelly says the new conditions will result in more trauma and are not reasonable for them.
"Give me a break! Their children are 4, 2 and 1. They've been physically examined six ways from Sunday!" she told the Deseret News.
Haas, a former judge, expressed anger last month, accusing CPS attorneys of being dishonest and uncooperative. After both sides reached an agreement, Kelly said a "two-hour struggle" followed before Haas went back to the judge to complain that CPS was not following the court's order to return the children.
Now, in declining to negotiate, Kelly said CPS attorneys are "going out of their way to be uncooperative, to put it mildly."
CPS spokeswoman Marleigh Meisner declined to comment on the allegations.
Because the Jessop children were in foster facilities near San Antonio, Haas' legal strategy was to make a case for the family before a judge there. That led to the restraining order and a temporary custody agreement. She is hoping a judge there will continue to agree with her arguments.
"The court has a broad range of power in the situation. It can remove the children from any state authority, including all restrictions placed on other families by a San Angelo district court judge, or it can send the case back to the San Angelo court," Kelly said.
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