Texas House Human Services Committee Hearing – Lessons Learned
I just watched the broadcast of the Committee hearing that was held 4-14-09. Yesterday the House Human Services Committee took testimony about lessons learned from the response and outcome to the Eldorado action. I was not all that interested in this initially because I thought it would simply be a show of self-justification by Texas government. I was wrong!
The Committe heard from:
The CPS Commissioner
Legal Aid Lawyer – represented mothers
Scott McCown- retired family law judge
Willie Jessop – FLDS spokesman
Susan Hays – attorney ad litem
Natalie Malonis – attorney ad litem
Jerri Lyn Ward – represented a father
“Parent Advocate” – didn’t catch her name
Deborah Brown – CASA
The Committee, chaired by Patrick Rose, gave everyone an opportunity to speak as long as they wanted. They asked good questions and it did not appear to me to be a rubber stamp of approval for CPS AT ALL. In fact, they took CPS to task and questioned the propriety of their actions from the raid to the nonsuits.
The Commissioner was well-spoken but seemed a little uninformed and some of her testimony really seemed canned. But I understand she is new and wasn’t in that position until late in the game. She was left to justify her predecessor’s actions. Darby, in particular, seemed keenly interested in why the cases were nonsuited and why CPS would just rely on statements from FLDS that they would protect their children. It was pointed out that there was widespread deception and there’s no way to know if kids are safe now because there’s no more court involvement and no way to monitor what’s happening. The Commissioner did admit that it’s basically a crapshoot now. Thw Committe was not satisfied that Texas did enough to protect the children and they seemed genuinely interested in how to fix problems and doit better in the future.
Willie – I’ll get to him in a minute.
Of all the testimony, I thought the judge, Susan Hays and Natalie Malonis were the most balanced and informative. The three of them seemed to agree on many things – all three testified that the problem was not really going to be addressed with the proposed legislation. The problem was_ – CPS was not using the tools that were available to them already, so giving them more tools wouldn’t do any good. All three acknowledged that there are some things CPS did well, but all three were also strident in their remarks that CPS dropped the ball, and they suggested ways that it should have been handled differently. McCown and Malonis both acknowledged that CPS had an overwhelming task and part of the poor outcome was beyond CPS’ control – the system was simply not designed to handle this type of situation. Hays wasn’t willing to let CPS off the hook so easily and wanted perfection in every decision and she kind of pre-supposed an ideal world of unlimited resources and perfect knowledge. Both Hays and Malonis complained that CPS did not cooperate and participate with AALs and CASA like they were supposed to. There were accusations that CPS withheld evidence and proceeded improperly and contrary to the evidence and recommendations of the AALs and GALs. Both Hays and Malonis also emphasized the imperative that a “Safety Net” be put in place so that women who want help have some support and some access to resources. Hays claimed there was no deception from mothers and children – Malonis disagreed. Hays said there was not enough evidenc to justify the removal of all the kids – Malonis disagreed and stated there was a lot of evidence and all of the kids were in a harmful environment with widespread abuse and neglect.
Something else I thought was really interesting is that the Commissioner and McCown and Malonis all said that the Third Court of Appeals decision was just flat-out wrong. One of the Committee members said that the appellate court misapplied the law. The judge said the decision was an anomaly and would be ignored and have no precedential value. Malonis said the record supported Walthers’ decision and should not have been overturned for “abuse of discretion.”. All three seemed reluctant to criticize the appellate court but went on to express that the decision was wrong. One of the Committee members cleared up exactly what the supreme court opinion meant, and this is the first time I heard this — the supreme court did not concur with the appellate court and did not uphold that decision. Rather, the supreme court “declined to overturn” the appellate decision. The reason it’s stated like that is because CPS did not directly appeal the 3COA decision, but instead petitioned the supreme court for mandamus, asking that the court find that the 3COA abused its discretion. In a nutshell, CPS made it harder for the supreme court to reverse the appellate court because of the way they filed their appeal. The supreme court didn’t affirm the lower court, they just didn’t find the appellate court abused its discretion. It’s a pretty fine point but interesting.
The parents advocates were shrill and too biased to have any real legitimacy.
What can you say about Willie? First, I think he should have actually read the proposed legislation before he testified. He really made an ass of himself. He didn’t know what the bill said, he was disrespectful and hostile and evasive and he came across as an organized crime boss trying to protect and justify an organized crime ring. His entire testimony boiled down to this: y’all should not have been able to find about about the crimes we commit and how our children are abused because the call was a hoax –therefore, we’re entitled to continue committing crimes and abusing children because that’s what our soldiers fought and died for.
I kid you not.
Also interesting was the fact that Willie conceded that he does not represent the whole FLDS and has no authority to speak for the group or make declarations about group practices and policies. Kind of calls into question that whole declaration about the FLDS changing their policy on underage marriage.