AUSTIN – The families with children seized from a polygamist sect's ranch could flee Texas and out of state jurisdiction if an appeals court ruling is allowed to stand, Texas child welfare authorities argued Tuesday.
Child Protective Services lawyers have asked the state Supreme Court to block a lower court's decision that said putting the children from the ranch in state custody was improper. The Third District Court of Appeals in Austin said the state failed to show the youngsters were in any immediate danger, the only grounds under Texas law for taking children from their parents without court action.
In updated filings with the Texas Supreme Court, CPS lawyers argued Tuesday that if the custody orders are rescinded and the mothers take the children out of state, "no Texas court would have any authority to enter any orders to protect these children."
The families could take refuge in Hilldale, Utah, or Colorado City, Ariz., the area where the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is based.
The state filed its original appeal on Friday, arguing that Texas law gave the lower-court judge discretion on whether to remove the children.
Also on Tuesday, a judge ruled that CPS can keep in its care an infant born to a polygamist sect member on May 12. Under the temporary custody agreement, the 2-week old boy will remain in state custody with his two older siblings, a 3-year-old sister and a 1-year-old brother.
Their mother, 22-year-old Louisa Bradshaw Jessop, will be allowed to live with her children under state supervision, according to the agreement.
About 440 children at the Yearning For Zion Ranch in Eldorado were taken into custody more than six weeks ago after someone called a hot line claiming to be a pregnant, abused teenage wife. The girl has not been found and authorities are investigating whether the calls were a hoax.
The case amounted to one of the biggest child-custody actions in U.S. history. Members of the FLDS claim they are being persecuted for their religious beliefs.
The FLDS, which teaches that polygamy brings glorification in heaven, is a breakaway of the Mormon church, which renounced polygamy more than a century ago.
Texas child welfare authorities have argued that all the children, from newborns to teenagers, should be removed from the ranch because the sect pushes underage girls into marriage and sex and encourages boys to become future perpetrators.
The appeals court ruling against the state technically applied only to the 124 children of 38 mothers who filed the complaint. Texas officials, however, acknowledged Tuesday it could harm their case with the hundreds of other children from the ranch.
The state's Tuesday court filing also says that DNA testing for alleged mothers and fathers of the children is not yet complete and that the children could be returned to sexual predators if the court doesn't rule in its favor. The first DNA results are expected next week.