5/31/09 – ADG (AP): Keep suit, custody actions separate, state asks

Arkansas Democrat Gazette
May 31, 2009
Associated Press

Keep suit, custody actions separate, state asks

Efforts by lawyers for jailed evangelist Tony Alamo to gather what they claim is evidence for a civil suit against the state in federal court are really an attempt to interfere in state-court custody actions involving the children of Alamo followers, according to lawyers for the state.

The state Department of Human Services filed five motions in federal court Friday in the civil lawsuit that accuses the agency of harassment and civil rights violations in the removal of children from Tony Alamo Christian Ministries.

The motions filed by DHS ask U.S. District Judge Harry Barnes opposes efforts by the church’s lawyer, Phillip Kuhn of Florida, to take depositions and seek other evidence until the court has ruled on jurisdiction. The state wants Barnes to issue an order barring such efforts by Kuhn.

“If this court grants the relief sought by (the Alamo ministry), an improper interference with the state court proceedings is inevitable,” a DHS motion said.

According to DHS, the civil suit asks the federal court to overturn state court orders.

“For example, plaintiffs ask that the defendants be ordered not to require any member of the (Alamo ministries) to leave their present housing or employment,” a DHS filing said. “That issue, however, has already been decided by the state courts and the defendants cannot ignore the valid orders of the state courts.”

Thirty-six children associated with Alamo’s group have been taken into state custody since September, among more than 125 sought in Miller and Sebastian counties.

Kuhn said he has scheduled depositions of the DHS administrators named as defendants in the suit for next week. He has also served DHS with subpoenas for a variety of records as part of the evidence-gathering process.

DHS has indicated it doesn’t want to hand over anything until Barnes has decided whether the case can stay in federal court.

In a response filed by Kuhn, DHS is accused of using the issue of federal versus state jurisdiction to, “fight this constitutional battle with paper swords in dark rooms. Their fondest hope … is to convince the court to wash its hands of the factual and evidentiary realities of the case by deciding … the narrow issue of … jurisdiction.”

Kuhn said he plans to appear at DHS offices in Little Rock on Tuesday to collect the items listed in his subpoena unless Barnes issues an order preventing him from doing so.

Kuhn asks that all of DHS’ motions be denied and that the agency be required to cooperate with his evidence-gathering activities.

Alamo is jailed in Texarkana awaiting trial on juvenile sex-related charges.

In: 2009 - (Trial year)

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