Friday, May 23, 2008

A Return to Reason and the Rule of Law

Longtime Wizard readers know what strong confidence I have in the U.S. Judicial System. As a long time member of the ACLU, I remain confident that, given time, the courts will defend the minority against the oppression of the majority. It is the way our Constitution was designed and it almost always works.

But I was really starting to get worried in the case of the Texas Department of Child Services massive raid on the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) ranch in El Dorado, Texas. The armed assault based on a prank phone call, followed by the wholesale arrest and confinement of over 500 children and mothers, was one of the darkest days in recent American history.

The Texas CPS violated Texas law, the Texas Constitution and their own guidelines in removing, confining and then placing into foster care over 440 children, many as young as 1 year old, without even a hearing.

And the children and parents were left with a ragtag team of court appointed lawyers from all across the state who had neither the time nor the resources to fight the battle.

Even the neighboring states of Arizona and Utah were appalled by the out of control Texas Department of Justice. They took the unusual step of
meeting with their FLDS communities to assure them that there would be no repeat of the Texas raid in their states.

Yesterday the Third Court of Appeals in Austin issued a sweeping ruling that should finally put both this case and the egregious actions by Texas law enforcement back on the right track.

From Michelle Roberts Associated Press story as published in
The Huffington Post:

    SAN ANGELO, TexasIn a ruling that could torpedo the case against the West Texas polygamist sect, a state appeals court Thursday said authorities had no right to seize more than 440 children in a raid on the splinter group's compound last month.
    The Third Court of Appeals in Austin said the state failed to show the youngsters were in any immediate danger, the only grounds in Texas law for taking children from their parents without court action.

    It was not clear when the children, now scattered in foster homes across the state, might be returned to their parents. The ruling gave a lower-court judge 10 days to release the youngsters from custody, but the state could appeal to the Texas Supreme Court and block that

    The decision in one of the biggest child-custody cases in U.S. history was a humiliating defeat for the state Child Protective Services agency. It was hailed as vindication by members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, who claimed they were being persecuted for their religious beliefs.

    "It's a great day for Texas justice. This was the right decision," said Julie Balovich, a Legal Aid attorney for some of the parents. She was joined by several smiling mothers who declined to comment at a news conference outside the courthouse.

    Sect elder Willie Jessop said the parents were elated, but added: "There will be no celebrations until some little children are getting hugs from their parents." He said his faith in the legal system will be restored "when I see the schoolyard full of children."
Over on Huffington, a commenter with the handle named iratior summed up my feelings best:

    "I'm just as much against child abuse and spousal abuse as anybody else, but I think that the way the Texas authorities handled this case set some terrible precedents. When they began their actions, all they had to go by was the phone call; the person making the call could have been a complete fake, for all they knew."
    "If you have children, would you want the government to have the power to seize them just because somebody who doesn't authenticate themselves and could be a complete fake calls a government agency and accuses you of abusing them? This concept of "guilt by accusation" is ruining our legal system."

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