A juvenile judge erred in refusing to let a child psychologist testify in the protracted welfare case involving children of polygamist John Daniel Kingston, a state attorney told the Utah Supreme Court Monday.
The psychologist's testimony was "crucial" since it would have focused on a child's ability to heal when a parent does not acknowledge issues that led to state intervention, said Martha Pierce, an attorney with the Guardian ad Litem's Office.
"The point of view of the child was what was missing," Pierce said.
Kristin Brewer, director of the Guardian Ad Litem's Office, appealed an order by 3rd District Juvenile Judge Elizabeth Lindsley last August that returned six children to Heidi Mattingly Foster, one of Kingston's spiritual wives.
The high court could uphold the juvenile court decision, reverse it, or reverse it and order a new hearing. The justices also heard an appeal by Daniel Irvin, Kingston's attorney, who was sanctioned for filing frivolous motions.
Lindsley made her ruling after a three-day hearing, during which she heard testimony from caseworkers, therapists, attorneys, the mother and the children - but not Doug Goldsmith of The Children's Center.
Gary Bell, Mattingly Foster's attorney, objected that Goldsmith had no connection to the case and that proper notice of his expert testimony had not been given.
Lindsley's order seconded a finding made in April 2005 by 3rd District Juvenile Judge Andrew Valdez, who also ordered that the children be reunited with their mother.
Valdez clarified his order days later after attorneys for the guardian's office and the Division of Child and Family Services disputed whether he wanted the children returned home.
Valdez later stepped down from the case after a state attorney alleged he could not be impartial because his son had scuffled with Kingston supporters outside the Matheson Courthouse.
On Monday, Brewer described the hand-off from Valdez to Lindsley as a "helter-skelter" affair that contributed to her failure to disclose Goldsmith's testimony.
Justices asked the attorneys about the nature of the hearing, the evidence relied on and allowed by Lindsley and about Valdez' orders.
Justice Matthew B. Durrant keyed in on two paragraphs in Valdez' final order that seemed contradictory, noting one said it wasn't yet safe to return the children home and another ordering reunification.
"He wanted a transition plan given the length of time they'd been out of the mother's home," Bell said.
The family landed in juvenile court in February 2004 after a fight with their two oldest daughters over ear piercing. Those girls were placed in state custody; last summer, the couple relinquished their parental rights to the girls.
In October 2004, eight other children were removed from Mattingly Foster's home after a DCFS caseworker said they were being uncooperative. She retained custody of a child born that summer.
Valdez sent the oldest boy home in April 2005; he sent a second boy home in June 2005. The other six joined them in August.
Mattingly Foster said after the hearing that the children are doing well and the family is "trying to put the building blocks back together."
"This entire experience has been horrific and humbling," she said. "They need to let us just move on."