Custody Hearings for Children taken from Texas Polygamist Sect. Begin

by Chris Clackum

NBC News

SAN ANGELO - The largest child custody case in U.S. History is underway today in Texas.

Hundreds of hearings are scheduled over the next few weeks to determine if or when children taken during a raid on a polygamist compound can be returned to their parents.

The parents showed up in mass for the massive undertaking.

The Texas Department of Child Protective Services spelled out what frustrated parents must do to get their children back.

"Part of what we are hoping to find out today is what some of those terms really mean," said Rod Parker, an attorney representing one of the children.

Broad terms like "safe environment and education" are used in the written plan that the state says the 168 mothers and 69 fathers must provide before regaining custody of their children.
 
463 of them were taken from the polygamist compound in west Texas in April because of allegations that members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints were forcing underage girls into marriage and sex, allegations that, as yet, haven't been proven.

Child Protective Services is also being judged.

"I saw that the Governor of Texas has been praising them for job they're doing, and to me that's like George Bush telling Brown good job after Katrina," said attorney Susan Hays.

Five judges in five courtrooms will hear each child's case individually.

The hearings are expected to last until June 4th.

One of the cases heard today involved the six-year-old son of polygamist sect leader Warren Jeffs.

A state child welfare case worker testified that the boy did not suffer physical or sexual abuse while living with his mother at the group's Texas ranch.

Members of the renegade mormon sect, which teaches polygamy brings glorification in heaven, have said they are being persecuted for their religious beliefs.