SAN ANGELO, Texas - A Texas judge refused yesterday to sign an agreement that would have paved the way for the first large group of children taken from a polygamist sect's ranch to return to their parents, dashing hopes raised by a state Supreme Court ruling in the case.
Texas District Judge Barbara Walther wanted to add restrictions to the parents' movement and broaden the authority of Child Protective Services to monitor the more than 400 children in foster care before signing an agreement by CPS and the parents that would have reunited the families.
When several parents' attorneys objected and argued that Walther lacked the authority to expand the agreement, she said she would sign the initial document only after all 38 parents whose case was considered by the Supreme Court signed off, a provision that attorneys said would ensure the children stayed in custody at least through the weekend.
The hearing's end was a stunning development after it appeared the parents and CPS had reached an agreement that would have allowed children to return beginning Monday. The tentative plan technically applied only to the mothers named in an appellate court ruling that found CPS was unjustified in sweeping up the children from the Yearning For Zion Ranch two months ago, but everyone agreed the order would be extended to all but a few children.
"There was an opportunity today for relief in this, and it was not granted," said Willie Jessop, an elder for the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, which runs the ranch.
Attorneys for several of the minors and mothers in custody said Walther's refusal to sign the order would likely result in more appellate court filings.
While Walther said she would issue the order if all the parents signed, lawyer Andrea Sloan said that would take days because parents have spread across the state to be close to their children in foster care.
"It's not as simple as going across the street and setting up a booth," said Sloan, who represents several young FLDS women and minors who contend they should be reclassified as adults.
Laura Shockley, an attorney for several children and mothers not part of the original appellate court case, predicted more filings in the Third District Court of Appeals in Austin on Monday. That court ordered Walther to allow the children to return to their parents in a reasonable time, a decision affirmed by the Texas Supreme Court on Thursday.