April 2, 2009
BY L. LAMOR WILLIAMS
TEXARKANA – After holding a review hearing Wednesday in the case of children removed last year from the Tony Alamo Christian Ministries in Fouke, Miller County Circuit Judge Joe Griffin declined to release any information about the hearing.
After the closed hearing, Griffin sent his case coordinator to deliver a short statement: “A review hearing was held today. The next one is scheduled for Sept. 1,” the woman said. The hearing was held to update the court on progress the families have made in meeting the conditions set for them to regain custody of their children.
Reporters are barred from the courtroom, and a gag order forbids anyone associated with the case from releasing any information about the ongoing proceedings.
Julie Munsell, a spokesman for the Arkansas Department of Human Services, said she could not confirm whether Griffin made any rulings during the hearing.
Griffin last month rescheduled the hearing to Wednesday. At that time he said half of the review hearings would be held Wednesday and half April 30, because the whole day was spent “settling old issues from a previous hearing.”
At hearings in January and November, Griffin and Miller County Circuit Judge Jim Hudson found that children in the ministry were endangered by practices that included underage marriages and beatings for breaking church rules. The judges ruled that the parents would have to get jobs outside the ministry and move out of houses owned by the ministry to regain their children.
It is unclear how many families were involved in the hearing Wednesday. In February, Hudson had found that some parents had made no progress in finding homes and jobs outside the ministry. Those parents were Debra and Richard Ondrisek, the parents of two children in foster care, who were still living at a ministryowned house in Texarkana, and Greg Seago, the father of three children, who had moved from ministry property in Fort Smith to the ministry’s compound in Fouke.
Group leader Tony Alamo, 74, is in jail awaiting trial on charges that he transported five girls across state lines for sex.