Sunday, April 27, 2008

Re: the religious child abuse case in Texas

Editor's Editor's Note:  I received this from a friend of mine in Dallas who is a well-connected retired District Judge (who now runs an informal list-serv called Joe's Joke Exchange).  My friend's comments are in blue, everything else is the work of the gentleman identified at the end of the post.  Interesting insider's view.  Interesting contrast and compare with the news coverage.

Editor's Note: This is a letter from attorney Gregg Gossett of San Angelo sent to his sister who is a member of Joe's Joke Exchange. Because of the very interesting legal situation that has recently occurred in Texas, I am forwarding this letter to members of the exchange for your information. Since Attorney Gossett wrote the letter, the Thursday hearing to which he refers has been held and the judge has granted the State's Motion to keep the children in state custody and has ordered DNA testing to determine parenthood. That would appear to be the only orderly way to proceed since parents have a right to be involved when their children are taken away. But who knows who the parents are? 

I thought I would give you an update on the polygamist crisis here in San Angelo. About 5 years ago, some business men from Utah came to Texas to buy a ranch for a hunting retreat. They purchased a 1,700 acre ranch about 45 miles south of San Angelo, near a small town named Eldorado. It became known that it was owned by a break away sect of the Mormon church which practiced polygamy (the leader of this group is Warren Jeffs, who is serving time in a federal pen for arranging a marriage with a 14 year old girl). 
At first the people of Eldorado were concerned that the Mormons would register to vote and take over the county. Instead the Mormons kept to themselves. They commenced building a temple complex which can be seen from the county road. They even began to get into the good graces of the citizens of Eldorado as they came into town once a week to patronize the local merchants, paying with cash (no charge accounts or credit cards). 
Then a week ago one of the local social service organizations received a telephone call from a young girl at the compound alleging she had been forced to marry a 50 year old man, who abused her. The state then raided the compound and began to take into custody all of the minor children under 18 years of age. In addition to the Temple, there are many large dormitory styled homes around the complex (this will make a nice hunting retreat when it is all over). When the agents would go into a house, they might find 20 children which they would take into custody. When they would come back several hours later, the house would again be filled with children. Apparently the houses were all connected by tunnels and like prairie dogs they would move from house to house via the tunnels to escape child protective services. Regardless of girl who made the initial call, child protective agents with Texas Rangers observed many young girls under 18 with children and who were pregnant. 
They first began moving the children to the Baptist church in Eldorado, but it was quickly filled. So they began moving them to San Angelo. The city emergency management department was activated (usually their only responsibility is to set off the tornado siren alert). The number grew to 100, then 200, then 300 and to just over 400. In addition to the 400 something children, there are about 150 mothers. Currently they are housing them at Fort Concho and at the fair grounds. The San Angelo city staff went into crisis mode, arranging not only bedding, clothes, but food and other services. 
I had to go to Fort Concho to visit with DPS regarding the possible closing of a city facility next to the fort. I was very impressed with the efficiency of the Department of Public Safety. One room looked like the control room at NASA during a moon launch. They had 20 or 30 computers, each manned by a DPS agent, as they kept track of each of their wards. 
The next major problem is the legal one. Each child is entitled to a court appointed attorney and a hearing within 14 days. Under state law only lawyers who are certified in child protective cases can represent a child in this type of proceeding. Some of the local attorneys have already been hired by the Mormons, thus reducing the pool of available lawyers. Many local lawyers have volunteered to represent the children. The state bar scheduled a special seminar last Friday so that local attorneys (like myself) can become certified to represent these children. The state bar also brought in an attorney from Utah to educate us on the culture of this sect. 
This sect of Mormons is really just producing babies so older men can have sex with young girls.  When a child is born, usually they take it away from the mother and have a surrogate mother raise the child. Thus children really do not know their biologically father or mother. This is a very major problem for Child Protective Services as they are having a difficult time identifying children and the names of their parents. When the mothers hold their babies, they hold them with the face turned away so as not to become too attached. The children have never seen television, have no toys and their idea of fun is picking weeds (Leslie and I want to invite them over to play). When the boys become 13, they move them to the dairy barn where they are worked from sun up to sun down; and more importantly they are away from the girls. 
Now push is coming to shove. Beginning today the local courts must appoint over 400 certified attorneys to represent the over 400 children. There is a mandatory hearing scheduled for this coming Thursday at 10:00 pm. After 400 orders making the appointments are signed today, the court must get notice to each of those attorneys, who should make an attempt to visit with their client before the Thursday hearing. Additionally, when this operation began, the DPS and Texas Child Protective Services sent in hundreds of persons to assist, booking up all the available motel rooms in town. Now there is no room in the inn for hundreds of lawyers who are to descend on San Angelo for the Thursday hearing. The churches in town circulated lists yesterday asking people to volunteer bedrooms in their homes to house the attorneys. 
The Thursday hearing is now scheduled for the city auditorium, but they may need to move it to football stadium. At the hearing, I assume each child will appear, together with the lawyer, the guardian ad litem appointed for each child and the social worker. Additionally, the mothers may well be there together with any attorney for the mothers. 
The issues continue to grow. The hearing Thursday will be a collective hearing for all the cases. But within the next 60 days, each of the children will be entitled to a separate, individual hearing. That means not only bringing back the attorney who represents that child, but a judge and court reporter to hear that particular case. 400 separate trials within the next 60 days. 
Lastly, I do not have a good feel for what the final solution will be. Child Protective Services is NOT seeking to terminate parental rights. That means, when all is said and done, I assume we will provide counseling to the mothers and then send them back. 

Greg Gossett 
Gossett, Harrison, Reese, Millican 
and Stipanovic, P. C. 
2 South Koenigheim 
P. O. Box 911 
San Angelo, Texas 76902-0911 

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