Friday, May 23, 2008

Appeals court rules against Texas in polygamy case

Excerpts from a New York Times article:
Appeals Court Rules Against Texas in Polygamy Case

HOUSTON — A Texas appeals court ruled Thursday that state authorities and a lower court judge abused their authority by illegally seizing up to 468 children from their homes at a polygamist ranch in West Texas last month.

The rebuke threw the largest custody case in American history into turmoil, with some lawyers saying the children could soon be reunited with their families. Many of the mothers have been criss-crossing Texas visiting their children in foster homes.

According to the court, the state did not establish proper grounds to remove the children from their families, who belong to the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or F.L.D.S. The F.L.D.S. broke off from the mainstream Mormon church after it had disavowed polygamy in 1890.

...The unanimous ruling by three judges of the Third Court of Appeals in Austin revoked the state's custody over a large group of the children and by extension almost certainly the rest, for what it called a lack of evidence that they were in immediate danger of sexual or physical abuse.

The appeals court said the record "does not reflect any reasonable effort on the part of the department to ascertain if some measure short of removal and/or separation would have eliminated the risk." It also said the evidence of danger to the children "was legally and factually insufficient" to justify their removal and it said the lower court "abused its discretion" in failing to return seized children to their families.

State agency officials, who have been criticized for their handling of the raid, said taking all the children in the church's compound were necessary because the culture of the sect led to illegal under-age marriage for girls and acceptance of that practice by boys, a pattern that the state said endangers both sexes.

..."The way that the courts have ignored the legal rights of these mothers is ridiculous," Julie Balovich, also of RioGrande, added. "It was about time a court stood up and said that what has been happening to these families is wrong."

The state made its case in an earlier court hearing. "There is a culture of young girls being pregnant by old men," said Angie Voss, an investigator with Child Protective Services, who participated in the raid and interviewed girls at the ranch. Ms. Voss testified that she had found evidence that "more than 20 girls, some of whom are now adults, have conceived or given birth under the age of 16 or 17."

Read the entire article here.

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