More than 450 children were taken to Austin from the Yearning for Zion Ranch near Eldorado seven weeks ago to prevent possibly sexually abusive marriages of young girls to older men, but the Texas Supreme Court Thursday upheld a lower court ruling that the removal of the children was illegal. Texas child welfare officials had agreed Friday to return some of the children to the ranch Monday.
"We are disappointed, but we understand and respect the court's decision and will take immediate steps to comply," Marleigh Meisner, a spokeswoman for Child Protective Services, told the Houston Chronicle and The San Antonio Express-News.
Protective service officials reached an agreement Friday with attorneys to return some of the children to their home Monday. West Texas District Judge Barbara Walther was expected to sign off on the deal, provided that child welfare officials have access to the children 12 hours a day, the Chronicle reported.
However, as the judge was set to approve the agreement, an attorney participating in the proceeding by telephone objected to some points added by the judge and said Walther could cancel her original removal order and return the children or accept an earlier agreement with mothers of the children, the Chronicle said.
After a recess, Walther said she would sign the earlier agreement, but only if it was also signed by 43 mothers who are members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and who had sued to have their children returned.
Walther then left the bench without saying when she would return or when another hearing would be held -- leaving the courtroom in turmoil, the newspaper said.
The Texas Supreme Court Thursday upheld a May 22 ruling by the 3rd Court of Appeals in Austin that said the state didn't have enough evidence to order into foster care every child who lived at the ranch instead of just the teenage girls considered at risk.
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