- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 31, 2008

SAN ANGELO, Texas (AP) - Parents’ hopes of quick reunions with more than 400 children removed from a polygamist sect’s ranch were dashed yesterday after their attorneys and a judge clashed over proposed restrictions.

A decision by Texas District Judge Barbara Walther means that to regain custody, the 38 mothers who filed the complaint that led the Texas Supreme Court to reject the state’s massive seizure must personally sign an agreement their attorneys and state child-welfare officials have proposed. That could add days to the process, attorneys for the mothers said, because the women are scattered 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 attorney Andrea Sloan, who represents several young women in the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which runs the West Texas ranch.

Judge Walther had wanted to add restrictions to the agreement worked out by the parents’ attorneys and Texas Child Protective Services, but the parents’ attorneys argued that she didn’t have the authority. The judge then said she would sign the initial document, but only after all 38 mothers involved in the case the high court ruled on signed it first.

State officials had said earlier that children could start being returned Monday, but attorneys for the parents said the new requirement could add days to the time frame.

The high court Thursday affirmed an appeals court ruling ordering Judge Walther to reverse her decision last month putting all children from the Yearning for Zion Ranch into foster case. The Supreme Court and the appeals court rejected the state’s argument that all the children were in immediate danger from what it said was a cycle of sexual abuse of teenage girls at the ranch.

The church denies any abuse of the children, who were seized in a raid nearly two months ago, and say it is being persecuted for its religious beliefs on polygamy.

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