Judge won’t free family of polygamist sect member

AUSTIN — A polygamist sect member who says the state has wrongly swept his three children into foster care lost an attempt Thursday to free them.

Dan Jessop said he won a partial victory, though, when lawyers for Child Protective Services told a judge that CPS workers would try by Thursday evening to place his wife, their newborn son and two other very young children together in a foster home, possibly in San Antonio.

A joint living arrangement for a nursing mother from the sect with all of her children would be a first in the tangled aftermath of Texas’ removal of more than 450 youngsters from an Eldorado ranch last month, the largest child protection raid in U.S. history.

On orders from state District Judge Barbara Walther of San Angelo, CPS has kept 18 sect mothers who have children younger than 12 months together with those infants, but children who are older have been moved into foster care, away from their mothers.

However, as CPS successfully fended off Mr. Jessop’s bid for an order to free his children in an Austin courtroom Thursday, state lawyers said their goal was to keep his wife and their children together.

Mr. Jessop, 24, said he was relieved.

“They’ll remember me,” he said of the children, because his wife will be with them. “She’ll teach them as we always teach them.”

Early indications were that the move could anger the 18 other nursing mothers from the sect who were placed at a San Antonio shelter, apart from older children, and who now may demand similar treatment. A CPS spokesman declined to comment.

On Thursday, state lawyers acknowledged that Mr. Jessop’s wife, Louisa, is 22 and should never have been taken into state custody with the ranch’s children.

“We’re not psychic,” said CPS lawyer Michael Shulman. “We can’t just look at people and say, ‘You’re of age, you can go.’ ”

While CPS has said sect members have given state workers confusing information, sect spokesman Willie Jessop said the state wouldn’t release 27 sect females whose ages were in dispute because it feared losing jurisdiction over the newborns.

Pat Matassarin, Mr. Jessop’s lawyer, said the state’s underestimation of sect mothers’ ages has implied they had sex as young girls.

“This kind of presentation just is devastating to families,” she said.

District Judge Darlene Byrne of Travis County said she would not even consider granting Mr. Jessop’s request for an order freeing his children from protective custody.

“You all can fight it over there,” Judge Byrne said, referring to the San Angelo court that has given CPS temporary custody of the sect youngsters.

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