Thursday, April 17, 2008

My Take on Eldorado

Yes, I'm an attorney in West Texas. So let me start off by saying that I am not one of the 350-odd attorneys serving as volunteer ad litems in the case. I say that only to let everyone know that I know nothing more about the case than the national and local media are saying, along with a bit of West Texas gossip thrown in for good measure.

I don't place much stock in the gossip. You can't really believe most of it anyway, so I'm not going to dwell on it here. I also won't be providing any links to news stories. There's too many of them, and I wouldn't want to pick and choose which ones to include and which ones to leave out.

I will provide a link to a page where you may find the affidavits (in the green box on the left-hand side) filed in the case, but only because a newspaper has already done so.

I'm a lawyer, but I'm also a plain ol' average everyday human being. My first reaction to the "raid" was probably the same as most others'. That anyone could force a child into a "spiritual union" is abhorrent to me. If what they're saying is true, and we've been given no clear reason to doubt that it is, then the State was pretty clearly justified in taking most, if not all, of those kids into custody.

But that depends on a bunch of stuff that the State, I believe, will have a hard time proving.

See, they received some phone calls from a 16-year-old girl who says she was forced into a "spiritual union" with a much older man. She apparently gave birth to one child (at 15) and, at the time of the calls, was pregnant with another.

This was the basis for the initial warrant.

They have yet to locate the girl, and the man she named apparently is on probation in Arizona. His probation officer says he hasn't left the state.

Now for my lawyer side to come out.

The natural thing, at least if you've ever been exposed to Texas CPS, is to have a tiny little annoying voice buzzing in the back of your head. That voice is saying,"Surely they didn't make that girl up just to get inside?" If not, where is she? Where's the phone records showing the number she called from? Was there a recording of the calls themselves?

I know that the Texas Family Code provides for "post-deprivation" procedures (essentially, the adversary hearing they're having today) when a child is seized in the absence of probable cause, and that those procedures have been deemed sufficient to protect the Due Process rights of families.

But, I can't get past the fact that they had one unsubstantiated allegation of abuse. One. And that entitles them to take all of the children from the entire ranch?

Yes, I know, the Family Code allows them to remove the subject child and others "similarly situated." That, however, has normally meant other children in the same home. Are there possibly families in this sect who haven't engaged in polygamous and pedophilic pursuits? Doesn't the law entitle them to that presumption until there's something to rebut it?

I think it does.

I've got to close by stating my clearly held opinion that anyone who harms a child should have the full force of the law brought to bear on them. That law, however, must be tempered by the protections of the Constitution. These people must be afforded the opportunity to defend themselves without being prejudged.

To those of you who would accuse me of condoning pedophilia, I can only say that's not what I'm doing. I'm merely defending the rights of accused persons in this State to have their cases fairly heard.

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