Lawsuit accuses department of bad dealing in custody cases of Alamo followers

Texarkana Gazette/August 29, 2009

An Arkansas Department of Human Services administrator in Miller County denied knowing anything about the custody cases of children connected to Alamo Ministries. However, documents seem to contradict him, according to a motion filed Friday.

Steve Mason, the DHS administrator assigned to Miller County, was questioned Monday by the attorney representing the church and two dads with kids in foster care. Their civil lawsuit accuses DHS of using a child abuse investigation to break apart the controversial ministry.

Mason, agency director John Selig and Gwen Lovelace, Mason's counterpart in Fort Smith, Ark., are named as defendants.

U.S. District Judge Harry Barnes has given Phillip Kuhn of Florida, the ministry's lawyer, permission to collect information concerning an allegation DHS has acted in bad faith in its dealings with Alamo devotees. Barnes is likely to dismiss the case if bad faith isn't shown. Federal courts can't get involved in state court actions, like custody cases, except in rare circumstances.

"Did you ever attend any meetings about the Tony Alamo case?" Kuhn asked Mason in a deposition Aug. 25.

"No, sir," Mason replied, according to a transcript filed with a motion to take Mason's deposition a second time.

"Did you ever have any conversations with anybody in your official capacity concerning the Tony Alamo case?" Kuhn asked.

"No, sir," Mason replied.

But documents attached to Kuhn's motion filed Friday describe conversations Mason had with parents and other DHS employees concerning the children of Alamo loyalists taken into foster care.

"Plaintiffs counsel learned that the statements ... simply were not true and there is indications Mr. Mason might have given false testimony under oath or he simply did not understand the questions asked," the motion said.

Kuhn's motion was filed in response to a motion to kill a notice served for Mason to submit to a second deposition filed Friday by DHS' lawyers.

"Because plaintiffs are restricted to discovery concerning the bad faith allegations contained in the complaint, were permitted to ask all of their questions without interruption or objection and because they fully completed the deposition, their present exploit appears more designed to harass than for the purpose of conducting legitimate discovery," DHS' motion said. "Consequently, defendant Mason should not be compelled to submit to the unreasonably duplicative, harassing and buradensome act of undergoing a second deposition."

DHS' motion asks that the plaintiffs be required to reimburse DHS for the filing fee associated with their motion asking Barnes to squelch Kuhn's second request to depose Mason.

Kuhn's response said the second deposition should be viewed as a second chance for Mason.

Considering the information Kuhn's motion said he now has that, "... completely contradicts the Aug. 25th sworn denials of Mr. Mason, plaintiffs counsel thought as a courtesy to Mr. Mason (he) be given a reasonable opportunity to correct his inaccurate testimony of Aug. 25, 2009," Kuhn wrote. "Of course, if the defendants choose to allow the testimony to stand uncorrected, the court may consider that fact to determine the veracity of the defendant's position on the issue of bad faith."

A "lengthy" conversation between Mason and a couple with six children who were among 17 removed from SUVs Nov. 18 as they headed toward the Texas border was videotaped and a copy can be given to the court, according to Kuhn's motion.

"Mr. and Mrs. Krantz had several other personal and telephone contacts about the case with Mr. Mason subsequent to the Nov. 19 meeting. He also had conversations with Mr. Krantz's mother-in-law and several DHS workers," Kuhn wrote.

Kuhn further asserts Mason has spoken with DHS caseworkers about the custody cases, some as recently as June.

DHS spokesperson Julie Munsell said Mason is not responsible for supervising caseworkers assigned to custody cases concerning the children of Alamo devotees.

"That's not in the scope of his job," Munsell said.

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