Texas to Argue for Sect Children Custody

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The state of Texas will attempt to maintain custody of 416 children taken from their parents last week after an investigation of abuse at a polygamous sect's ranch.

This week the scene shifts to the San Angelo courthouse as the state will make their arguments to a judge.

Texas bar officials say more than 350 attorneys from across the Lone Star State have offered to represent the children free of charge.

"The size, the scope of this effort is unprecedented," attorney Guy Choate said. "It's terribly important to the State Bar of Texas that everyone have access to justice."

Child welfare laws require each child in state custody to have an attorney.

One Monday, a hearing will determine which cases will be addressed first. A judge is scheduled to begin addressing custody issues at a hearing set for Thursday.

Mothers Appeal to Governor

Three of the mothers have appealed to Gov. Rick Perry for help in a letter the sect said was mailed to him on Saturday.

In the letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press, the mothers from the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints claim some of their children have become ill and have required hospitalization.

They also say some of the children have been questioned about the allegations of abuse since they were placed in state custody.

The governor's spokesman, Robert Black, said Sunday he had not seen the letter and was unable to comment.

The one-page missive, signed by three women who claim they represent others, says about 15 mothers were away from the property when their children were removed.

"We were contacted and told our homes had been raided, our children taken away with no explanation, and because of a law enforcement blockade preventing entering or leaving the ranch, we were unable to get to our homes and had no-where to go," it said. "As of Wednesday, April 9, 2008, we have been permitted to return to our empty, ransacked homes, heartsick and lonely."

The mothers said they want Perry to examine the conditions in which the removed children have been placed.

"You would be appalled," the letter said. "Many of our children have become sick as a result of the conditions they have been placed in. Some have even had to be taken to the hospital. Our innocent children are continually being questioned on things they know nothing about. The physical examinations were horrifying to the children. The exposure to these conditions is traumatizing them."

Asked about claims that children were hospitalized, state Child Protective Services spokeswoman Marissa Gonzalez said she had not seen the letter and would have to review it before commenting.

Officials have said that about a dozen children had chicken pox and that others needed prescription medications. They didn't say whether any were hospitalized.

Cell Phones Seized

On Sunday, state officials enforced a judge's order to confiscate the cell phones of the sect women and children.

The emergency order was sought by attorneys ad litem for 18 FLDS girls in the state's custody, Gonzalez said.

In a copy of the order provided to the AP, lawyers said the phones should be confiscated "to prevent improper communication, tampering with witnesses and to ensure no outside inhibitors to the attorney-client relationship."

Gonazalez estimated that at least 50 phones were seized.

All of the children are presently being housed in San Angelo's historic Fort Concho and at the nearby Wells Fargo pavilion. In addition, about 140 women from the ranch are also staying with the children. The women are not in state custody.

On Saturday, five FLDS women staying at the fort told Salt Lake City's Deseret News that the temporary shelter is cramped - cots, cribs and play pens are lined up side by side - and that many of the children are frightened.

An FLDS member who told the AP that his family members are among those inside the fort called the removal of phones a punishment.

"This was nothing more than retaliation of CPS to punish those who were disclosing what is really happening behind that wall of this concentration camp," said Don, who asked that only his first name be used because of the custody hearings.

Complaint from 16-Year-Old Sparked Raid

A local domestic violence hot line recorded a complaint from a 16-year-old girl. In the recording, the girl said she was physically and sexually abused by her 50-year-old husband.

Affidavits filed by child protection workers said they found a pattern of abuse at the Yearning for Zion ranch in Eldorado, about 45 miles south of San Angelo.  Authorities raided the sect's ranch on April 3 and took the children they found into temporary custody.

The 1,700-acre fenced ranch, a former game preserve, was bought by the FLDS in 2003.

The FLDS practices polygamy in arranged marriage that often pair underage girls with older men. The faith believes the practice will brings glorification in heaven. The mainstream Mormon church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, does not practice polygamy.

Source: Associated Press

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