Polygamy Custody Hearings Start Thursday

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Emergency custody hearings start today in Texas for children removed from a polygamous compound in West Texas.

Hundreds of lawyers have volunteered because each of the 416 children needs their own representation in court.

"We've got a saying in this pro bono business here that it's `billable hours for your soul,'" said Dallas attorney Ken Fuller as he prepared to travel to San Angelo.

However, Fuller and other attorneys will have their hands full sorting things out: None of them has any information on their young clients nor do they know how they are going to confer with them before the hearing.

"I understood the office of court administrator was trying to arrange for some technology, including scanning of documents so lawyers will be able to view them on computer access. And there's also the possibility of video conferencing," said Stewart Gagnon, a family law specialist with the Texas law firm of Fulbright and Jaworski.

The marathon hearing is being called one of the biggest child custody cases in U.S. history.

State officials will argue that the children were physically and sexually abused and that they should not be allowed to return to the compound.

Welfare workers are also defending their decision to separate children from their mothers. They say some of the kids are more truthful without their parents around.

"That's a difficult thing to do. Children like to be with their parents. And parents like to be with their children. And we were very sensitive to the issues involved with this," Texas CPS worker Marleigh Meisner said.

But the mothers say they were deceived because they were previously told they could stay with their children through tomorrow's custody hearings.

Meisner said, "I can tell you we believe the children who are victims of abuse or neglect, and particularly victims at the hands of their own parents, certainly are going to feel safer to tell their story when they don't have a parent there that's coaching them with how to respond."

Source: The Associate Press

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