The tiny county that has been the eye of the storm over the raid on the Fundamentalist LDS Church's YFZ Ranch says it could go bankrupt if the state of Texas doesn't indemnify it against millions of dollars in bills.
Schleicher County recently passed a resolution declaring that it has limited financial resources and its taxpayers are burdened beyond their means by the raid's extraordinary costs. The resolution says Texas Child Protective Services instituted "a costly procedure without the knowledge of Schleicher County against residents," and county officials have no way of controlling it.
"They're the ones that initiated the proceedings," Schleicher County Judge Johnny Griffin told the Deseret News on Monday. "There's costs sent to us that we didn't initiate and the county didn't authorize."
In rural Texas, a county judge most often acts as a chief administrative officer for the county (presiding over the county commission), but also hears only misdemeanor cases and civil lawsuits up to $10,000. Family court cases are handled at a district court level.
The June 2 resolution asks Texas lawmakers to make CPS bear the financial burden, saying that "Schleicher County has no desire at this time to seek protection under Title 9 of the United States Bankruptcy Code."
Griffin said Schleicher County (population 2,776) shouldn't have to pay for the raid when it had nothing to do with it. Schleicher County Attorney Raymond Loomis Jr. said he didn't learn about the Eldorado raid until he watched it on TV, hours after it had begun.
"Schleicher County was not involved in any decision making, was not consulted by anyone, and did not know ahead of time that the 'raid' was being planned," Loomis wrote to the Deseret News. "The county officials were not contacted or informed of the operation until less than 24 hours prior to it."
The sheriff's role in the raid was minimal, Griffin said.
"He got the phone call. Once it was passed to the (district attorney) it was the 51st District," he said, adding that all CPS proceedings take place in district-level courts.
Schleicher County Sheriff David Doran told the Deseret News in May that his role in the raid was primarily as an escort and that CPS and Texas Rangers were in charge of the operation.
Still, Schleicher County could be on the hook for the bills, unless the state picks up the tab. In one YFZ-related expense statement provided to the Deseret News under a government records request, Schleicher County's treasurer said she has received nearly $69,000 in invoices. The money has gone for things like travel, food, office supplies, and "expert witness" fees for ex-FLDS members and others who consulted on the raid.
Attorneys fees alone are nearly $8 million, Griffin said.
"Nobody with the state has conferred with me about anything that's taken place," he said Monday. "We get bills from people we didn't authorize. The state has paid for those. The statute in Texas requires us to pay for attorneys ad litem, guardian ad litems in any CPS proceedings. We're asking the state to indemnify those."
The state has verbally agreed to pick up the tab, but Griffin said they would like to see it in writing. Nearby Kerr County passed a resolution last week supporting Schleicher County's request for indemnification.
"As of early last week, we've paid all the bills we received from the county," Stephanie Goodman, a spokeswoman for the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, said in an e-mail to the Deseret News on Monday.
Court costs will go to Texas' Office of Court Administration. The state has reportedly racked up more than $14 million in costs since the April 3 raid.
The raid was prompted by a phone call from someone claiming to be a 16-year-old girl, pregnant and in an abusive polygamous marriage to an older man. When state authorities went to the YFZ Ranch, they said they found other signs of abuse, prompting a judge to order the removal of all of the children.
The hundreds of children taken in the raid were ultimately returned when a pair of Texas courts ruled that the state acted improperly and that there was no imminent danger to the children. Texas child welfare officials have alleged a pattern of abuse, with girls groomed to become child brides and boys growing up to be sexual perpetrators.A child abuse investigation as well as a criminal investigation are ongoing. The original call that sparked the raid is still being investigated as a hoax.
Contributing: Leigh Dethman E-mail: [email protected]
E-mail: [email protected]