Judge delays reunion for sect families

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SAN ANGELO, Texas (CNN) — A Texas judge on Friday refused to sign an order returning more than 300 children seized from a polygamist community, saying she wanted the mothers involved to sign the order first.

Members of the Fundamental Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints decried Judge Barbara Walther’s decision, which followed a Texas Supreme Court ruling that the removals were unwarranted.

“The kids have been terrorized and put in the custody of the state for weeks and weeks,” FLDS spokesman Willie Jessop said Friday after the hearing to determine how to return the children.

“Every effort has been made to bring relief,” Jessop said outside the courthouse. “It doesn’t need to be a problem to go pick up the kids. It doesn’t need to be any more difficult than picking them up after school.”

The 3rd District Court of Appeals ruled this month that officials with Child Protective Services erred in removing the children from the Yearning for Zion Ranch near Eldorado, Texas, effectively overturning Walther’s ruling that the children remain in state custody.

On Thursday, the Texas Supreme Court let the ruling stand, clearing the way for the children to be reunited with their families.

But in a conference Friday to discuss the children’s fate, Walther left the courtroom without signing the final draft, saying she would do so after the mothers in the case signed it.

“It places a huge burden on attorneys who are already overburdened to begin with. It’s not going to happen over the weekend even under the best circumstances,” said Laura Shockley, an attorney for some of the children.

Shockley said Walther did not set a date for another hearing.

A draft of the agreement was circulated Friday to the media while Walther met with parties in the case.

The draft said the order applies to 330 children. It was not immediately known how the state would handle return of the other children, who number about 110.

Under the tentative order, the children would start to return Monday under a number of conditions, including that they remain under state supervision while a criminal investigation ensues.

Child welfare officials removed the children from the sect ranch based on a perceived pattern of abuse in the community that they say included forcing underage girls to marry older men.

Officials expressed concern that FLDS families might leave Texas if their children were returned.

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May 30, 2008
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This post was last updated: Dec. 16, 2016