Judge in Alamo Christian Ministries case kills subpoena from ministry's lawyer

Texarkana Gazette/August 27, 2009

A federal judge issued a ruling late Tuesday giving both sides some of what they've asked for in a civil lawsuit filed by Tony Alamo Christian Ministries against several higher-ups with the Arkansas Department of Human Services.

The suit, filed on behalf of the ministry and two fathers with children in foster care, claims DHS administrators are using a child abuse investigation to disband the controversial ministry. They say the actions of DHS violate the religious freedoms of Alamo-following parents.

Since a September 2008 raid on ministry properties in Fouke, Ark., more than 30 children have been placed in state care amid accusations of abuse and neglect. About 90 juveniles listed on removal orders signed by Arkansas judges in November are missing and presumably in hiding with their parents.

U.S. District Judge Harry Barnes' order issued Tuesday killed a subpoena from the ministry's lawyer, Phillip Kuhn of Florida, that would've required DHS to produce documents this week related to its investigations of ministry children.

DHS argued Kuhn's Aug. 13 subpoenas weren't enforceable because federal rules allow 30 days for document production.

An earlier ruling gave a Sept. 15 deadline for conducting "limited discovery" into claims DHS has acted in bad faith.

If Barnes doesn't find bad faith in DHS dealings with Alamo loyalists, the suit is likely to be dismissed because federal courts cannot get involved in state court actions, like custody cases, except in rare circumstances.

In his order, Barnes "notes that a shorter time to respond ... is necessary here because of the expedited, limited discovery period ordered by the court."

That means DHS must hand over records to Kuhn in less than 30 days.

Lawyers representing DHS further argued Kuhn's request for "any and all" records pertaining to Tony Alamo or Tony Alamo Christian Ministries dating to 2003 was too broad.

"Plaintiffs allege the asserted violations in the complaint arose from the improper application of the Arkansas dependency-neglect statutes 'on or about Sept. 19, 2008 and continuing to the present time,'" Barnes' order said. "Thus the plaintiffs' production of documents is limited to 2005 through the present time."

DHS argued as well that Kuhn was going far beyond the bad faith issue with the Aug. 13 subpoena.

Barnes agreed and directed Kuhn to whittle the scope of his request.

DHS has also expressed concern about handing over confidential juvenile court records.

"The court will take up this issue if necessary after plaintiffs have served more narrow requests for production on defendants," the order said.

DHS administrators answered questions Monday and Tuesday from Kuhn and their own lawyers in depositions.

Kuhn said in addition to serving as the ministry's lawyer in the civil case, he has now taken over as the parents' attorney in the state custody proceedings. Kuhn is also one of three lawyers who make up Alamo's criminal defense team.

Alamo is being held in a jail in downtown Texarkana awaiting sentencing on 10 counts of bringing young girls across state lines for sex. He was convicted July 24.

During Alamo's trial, witnesses testified children as young as 3 were disciplined with boards and forced fasts and said schooling was put on hold if youngsters were needed to work.

Circuit judges presiding over custody cases ruled family reunification would be possible if parents acquired housing and employment independent of the ministry. Miller County Circuit Judge Joe Griffin said previously the court's intention isn't to force parents to cease attending services at Alamo Ministries, but to protect children.

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