7/02/09 – TG: Alamo ministries has 45 days to offer evidence in case

Texarkana Gazette
July 2, 2009
By: Lynn LaRowe

Alamo ministries has 45 days to offer evidence in case

Tony Alamo Christian Ministries has 45 days to offer evidence in federal court supporting an assertion that the Arkansas Department of Human Services acted in “bad faith” in state custody proceedings.

If the ministry’s lawyer, Phillip Kuhn of Florida, can convince U.S. District Judge Harry Barnes that DHS is using a child abuse investigation as a front to disband the controversial church, the suit will continue.

If not, established legal doctrine that prevents federal court involvement in state court cases will probably lead to a dismissal of the lawsuit.

“At this point in the litigation, the court is convinced that the … factors leading to abstention are met,” Barnes wrote in the June 30 order. “However, the court believes that it would be improper to abstain … in light of potential evidentiary support for plaintiff’s bad faith allegations.”

Kuhn filed the suit on behalf of the church and two fathers with kids in foster care, Bert Krantz and Greg Seago.

“We thank Judge Barnes for giving us the opportunity to find out what their true motives were. We want the truth. That’s all we want,” Kuhn said. “What we’re trying to establish from the evidence is that the dependency (custody) case was pretextual and the real motive was to dismantle the church. If they used the state processes for some other reason, then I think it constitutes bad faith.”

DHS communications director Julie Munsell said the records will show child welfare officials acted in compliance with state and federal law in the removals of children with parents loyal to the ministry.

“We conducted an investigation and did safety assessments to determine if children should be removed, just like in any other dependency-neglect case,” Munsell said. “The one thing that distinguishes this case from others is the shroud of secrecy that is unique to the Alamo Ministry and their congregate living arrangements. You don’t find that with other family situations.”

Since September, 36 children, ages 1 to 17, have been placed in foster care. Removal orders for more than 125 children were signed by Arkansas Circuit judges in November. The whereabouts of many of the listed juveniles remain unknown.

The children were taken amid allegations of sexual and physical abuse and medical and educational neglect.

In November two 18-year-old men, who as children lived on ministry properties with their parents, filed a civil suit seeking damages for their alleged suffering. The suit, filed by David Carter of Texarkana on behalf of Spencer Ondrisek and Seth Calagna, names Tony Alamo and John Kolbek as defendants.

Alamo, whose real name is Bernie LaZar Hoffman, is set to be tried on sexual abuse charges in federal court later this month. Alamo is being held in a jail in downtown Texarkana.

Kolbek is a wanted man. He is accused of beating Calagna with a 6-foot-long wooden paddle until his buttocks were bruised and bleeding. Federal authorities issued a warrant for Kolbek with unlawful flight from prosecution.

Carter was granted permission from the court to serve Kolbek with notice of the suit in the Texarkana Gazette in light of his fugitive status. Legal notices were published in the newspaper’s June 11 and June 18 editions.

If Kolbek hasn’t filed a response with the court by July 13, Carter said he will take steps to acquire a default judgment.

That would mean assets of Kolbek’s could be seized and liquidated as payment toward any court ordered judgment entered in Ondrisek’s and Calagna’s favor.

Kuhn, the same attorney who filed the suit against DHS on the church’s behalf, is representing Alamo in the suit Carter filed. Alamo’s criminal case and the two civil suits are pending in Barnes’ court in the Western District of Arkansas’ Texarkana Division.

The Florida civil rights attorney said he is now legal counsel to Gian Carlos Parrish, the first baby believed to have been born to ministry members since the raid in September.

The baby’s four older siblings, a 7-year-old brother and three sisters ages 5, 3 and 1, are in state care. The children’s parents, Carlos and Sophie Parrish, said they fear the state will take their infant as well.

“I have a 10-day-old client,” Kuhn said with levity. “I conferred with him extensively and he told me he wants the mama God gave him.”

Munsell said each case will be evaluated individually to determine if a child is at risk of abuse or neglect and warrants removal.

In: 2009 - (Trial year)

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