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Gene Kennedy and Courtney Orton reportingFundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Later Day Saints (FLDS) parents left a hearing in a Texas courtroom confused at when they're going to get their children back.
The children of the Yearning for Zion (YFZ) Ranch will not be going home this weekend after all. Judge Barbara Walther left the courtroom Friday evening without signing an order to restore custody of the children to their parents.
Judge Walther says she wants the mothers to sign the order first, to make sure they agree to certain restrictions. So, for now, children will remain in foster homes through the weekend.
The FLDS parents went to a Texas courtroom Friday thinking this would be the final round in a two-month legal fight. Their attorneys also thought the parents would be getting their children back sooner than later.
Rod Parker, an attorney for some FLDS members, told us, "It sounds like there may be some returns over the weekend."
Then the twist came. Parents wouldn't get their kids within hours because the judge refused to sign the order.
One lawyer said, "I don't know why the judge didn't sign it, but I know it would have been absolutely appropriate." Appropriate because the Texas Supreme Court upheld an appeals court decision that the state overstepped its authority in removing more than 400 children from the YFZ Ranch over abuse allegations.
The state worked out an agreement with FLDS parents. To get their kids back, they must show identification, take parenting classes and stay in Texas.
Duane Betournay, director of Child and Family Services, said, "I think what Texas child welfare officials feel and fear is that many of these people will just leave the state of Texas and be outside the jurisdiction of the Texas courts."
This latest court decision also says state officials must be able to enter the YFZ Ranch if needed during the investigation. If parents comply, the order says, they can get their children back as early as Monday. But the judge said she would only sign it after dozens of mothers signed it first, mothers who are scattered across Texas to be near their children in foster care. Given that situation, it could take days before the children return home.
Willie Jessop, an FLDS father, said, "There was opportunity today for relief in this, and it was not granted."
Parents and attorneys were visibly upset as they left the courtroom. "It doesn't need to be a problem to go and figure out how to pick up little children. It shouldn't be any more difficult than picking them up after school," said Jessop.
An attorney for the FLDS children said, "I know we're frustrated, and our phones are gonna be ringing off the hook from our clients who thought we were about to call tonight and tell them what they need to do to be at home in their own beds tonight."
The agreement was reached with the 38 mothers of the 124 children who filed the complaint that prompted the Texas Supreme Court to rule the state overstepped its authority. But the deal would affect nearly all the children since they were removed under identical circumstances.