Polygamist custody battle now 234 separate cases

Associated Press/July 25, 2008

San Angelo - The judge who had her custody decision reversed on more than 400 polygamist sect children has ordered the cases divided by mother, meaning there are now 234 separate child welfare cases from the Yearning For Zion Ranch.

Texas District Judge Barbara Walther on Thursday signed orders splitting the children who were previously lumped into two large court cases, creating 119 new cases. Court-ordered DNA testing was used to determine the divisions.

The new cases are in addition to 115 individual cases authorities began filing soon after an April raid prompted by claims that children were being abused. The state seized all children at the ranch, and officials eventually were overwhelmed by the number of cases and began lumping many of them together.

Currently, 440 children are being monitored by child welfare officials.

While the split creates more cases, it reduces the paperwork that must be sent to lawyers and parents involved by narrowing cases to specific families, said Child Protective Services spokesman Patrick Crimmins.

The Texas Supreme Court in May struck down Walther's order that the children taken from the YFZ Ranch be placed in foster care, saying authorities had shown no more than a handful of teenage girls were abused or at risk.

A child welfare investigation continues even though the children were returned to their parents last month.

Lawyers for children and parents from the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints complained from the beginning that they were unfairly treated as one large group, rather than individual households. Thursday's order legally separates them from one another.

Separately, five men, including jailed FLDS leader Warren Jeffs, were indicted for sexual abuse of a child on Tuesday in Eldorado. A sixth sect member was indicted for failure to report child abuse.

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