More than 400 lawyers have volunteered to represent 416 children removed by Child Protective Services from a secretive polygamist ranch in West Texas, says an attorney coordinating the effort.
On April 11, 51st Texas District Judge Barbara Walther decided 350 attorneys are needed to represent the children as ad litems in the CPS removal proceedings, widely considered to be the largest family law case in Texas history. Walther is holding a statutorily mandated hearing today in which CPS attorneys will have to show why the children from the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) should remain in state custody. The court is currently processing the names of volunteer ad litems and assigning them to FLDS children.
"I've been working on this 15 hours a day since Friday," says Tom Vick, a partner in Weatherford, Texas' Vick Carney & Smith, who is collecting the names of volunteer lawyers at the request of Gib Walton, president of the State Bar of Texas.
"It has been a tremendous outpouring of lawyers and we appreciate everyone's willingness to serve," Vick says. "We now have more volunteer lawyers than we can handle out here on Thursday. If you've already sent your information to volunteer and you do not get an e-mail from us, then you do not need to come to San Angelo this week."
"We may need some more," Vick says. "But I don't want people to go out there if they haven't been contacted. We just won't have accommodations for those folks."
"The other thing that lawyers who have already volunteered need to know is the cases are already being assigned and they will be getting e-mails in the next 24 hours about the assignment, about where to stay, and where to go and how to get their credentials," Vick says. "Everyone who has volunteered needs to be patient. We need you and we want you. It's just a huge undertaking to get all of these cases assigned."
Lawyers were due to begin interviewing their assigned clients Wednesday at San Angelo's City Auditorium, according to Vick.
"The beauty of it is all of the kids are all there now. And if the judge upholds the removal, these kids will be farmed out all across the state," Vick says. "I might have an 8-year-old kid in San Angelo today, but in a week he may be in temporary foster care in McAllen."
Numerous family lawyers from across the state have volunteered, Vick says, but not all of the attorneys have ad litem experience. Lawyers must take a continuing legal education course before representing a child. A training video can be downloaded from the State Bar of Texas' Web site, but volunteer lawyers don't have to take the CLE course before being assigned a case, Vick says.
"We are now getting lawyers from every walk of life," Vick says. "We have some civil lawyers who know nothing about CPS cases but are willing to learn and are willing to get the training."