SAN ANGELO, Texas — Lawyers representing a group of FLDS mothers caught up in the raid on the YFZ Ranch are headed back to court in an attempt to force child welfare authorities to hand over evidence of child abuse and neglect.

They say evidence has not been shared with lawyers representing parents and children from the Fundamentalist LDS Church ever since the judge overseeing the massive custody case issued a July 24 order suspending discovery.

It was done after a request by Texas Child Protective Services, which said no plan was ever created by the courts to provide discovery to numerous lawyers representing children in the case.

"Although the investigations have not been completed, and the Department has not yet reached a conclusion with respect to all the alleged abuse and neglect of the more than 400 children involved in these cases, numerous parties propounded interrogatories and other discovery requests," CPS lawyer Charles Childress wrote in a motion filed July 24.

"Efforts to reach agreements on the timing and content of discovery have been unsuccessful, and resources that would otherwise be available to resolve legal issues relating to the children have been devoted to dealing with discovery requests and resulting disputes."

The judge signed the order suspending discovery until a proper plan could be put in place. Lawyers representing some of the mothers and children claim they were blindsided.

"The judge went ahead and granted their request so CPS wasn't held to any sort of deadline or requirement," said Cynthia Martinez with the Texas RioGrande Legal Aid Society. "Our argument is that shouldn't have happened."

On Sept. 4, the legal aid attorneys have a hearing to ask the judge to set aside the order.

TRLA said it requested evidence, just like the dozens of other attorneys representing parents and children in the FLDS custody case. Because CPS was so swamped, the agency was given a deadline extension.

In court papers, TRLA lawyer Julie Balovich accused CPS lawyers of having improper communication with the judge and not giving her a chance to argue against it.

"A copy of the motion was not provided to the undersigned attorney until the day AFTER the Department obtained an ex parte order from the court," she wrote.

TRLA has since drafted its own discovery control plan, as have other attorneys. Susan Hays, a Dallas lawyer representing a 2-year-old girl, urged better communication on all sides.

"All fail to require productive communication for the vast majority of cases," she wrote in a letter to the judge.

Childress, who was just appointed to oversee the YFZ case, said in an Aug. 18 letter to the court and attorneys in the case that CPS is not trying to deny discovery to anyone. He noted that Texas evidence rules make reference to discovery being used to drive up the costs of litigation or to stall a case.

"In a case with more than 140 mothers and 400 children, all of whom have lawyers, we maintain, and hope to show at the hearing on Sept. 4, that formal discovery ... is virtually impossible," he wrote.

Hundreds of children were taken into state custody during the April raid on the FLDS Church's YFZ Ranch in nearby Eldorado amid allegations of child abuse involving members of the Utah-based polygamous sect. The 440 children were subsequently returned after a pair of Texas courts ruled the state acted improperly and that there was no imminent danger.

Child welfare and criminal investigations continue. Most recently, CPS has filed "nonsuits," seeking to end court supervision for approximately 176 children for various reasons. A 14-year-old girl was placed in foster care last week after Judge Barbara Walther ruled her mother was unable to protect her from abuse. The girl is believed to have been married at age 12 to FLDS leader Warren Jeffs.

So far, 10 indictments against nine men have been handed up by a Schleicher County grand jury in connection with the criminal probe of the FLDS Church. A separate battle is brewing over evidence seized by law enforcement in the raid on the YFZ Ranch. A hearing on whether to toss the search warrants is scheduled to be heard here on Oct. 1.


E-mail: bwinslow@desnews.com