Polygamist sect couple allowed to visit their children

A couple from a polygamist sect can have daily visits with their three children and in 10 days will have a hearing to decide their custody, a San Antonio judge said, breaking them out of the terms of temporary state custody imposed after last month’s raid at a polygamist compound.

Other challenges to a blanket order by state District Judge Barbara Walther that allowed Child Protective Services to keep 464 children in foster care were filed or heard Tuesday and Monday in courts in San Antonio, Austin and in San Angelo.

State child welfare authorities in April searched the sect’s compound near Eldorado in response to a sexual abuse complaint, removed all its children and eventually separated all but the youngest from their mothers to pursue an investigation that led them to conclude all the children were at risk of abuse.

The state is seeking permanent custody of them and two others who were born in the days after the children were dispersed to foster care centers across Texas.

From the first, the state violated a long list of rights guaranteed under the U.S. and Texas constitutions, said Rene Haas, the Corpus Christi lawyer who represented Joseph Jessop Sr. at Tuesday’s hearing, held in state District Judge Michael Peden’s chambers. “It is the system run amok,” Haas said.

Joseph and Lori Jessop beamed after learning Peden had granted the order. They had claimed not to know where the state had sent their 4-year-old daughter and 2 1/2 -year-old son, but as a nursing mother Lori Jessop has been allowed to care for her infant son, who is in a foster care facility in San Antonio, during the day.

Joseph Jessop is 27, and Lori Jessop is 25, according to court documents. They’re not in a plural marriage and lived in a single-family unit at the Yearning For Zion Ranch before the children were removed in the search, which began April 3. Joseph Jessop said he didn’t see his children again until May 9.

“My baby didn’t even recognize me,” he said.

It was unclear if Peden based his decision on the Jessops’ arguments that they are in a monogamous marriage, but others are making the same argument.

Also on Tuesday, an attorney for three FLDS husbands who also maintain they lived with their wives in non-polygamous unions, and in housing separated from others in the compound, filed pleadings with another San Antonio state district court asking that their children be immediately released from state custody.

James Dockstander, Rulon Keate and LeLand Keate claim the seizure of their five young children violated their due process and equal protection rights. The men were neither provided with individual hearings nor given written notice of the mass hearing that ended in the state getting temporary custody of all the sects’ children, stated the suit filed by Gerald Goldstein and Cynthia Orr.

At a hearing in San Angelo on Tuesday, a CPS attorney conceded that a new mother who was placed in protective custody as a minor was in fact an adult, CPS spokeswoman Marleigh Meisner said.

The CPS attorney told Judge Walther that the mother of a healthy boy born in San Marcos weeks after the removals was now considered to be at least 18, and was free to go. The infant is still in state custody.

“We had solid proof, including state-issued documents” said Natalie Malonis, an attorney for the woman.

Chronicle reporter Terri Langford contributed to this story from Houston. Express-News reporters Lisa Sandberg and Nancy Martinez also contributed.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Friday May 16, 2008.
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