11/23/08 – Alamo’s Biological Child Listed on Court Order

Texarkana Gazette
November 23, 2008
By: Lynn LaRowe

More lawyers needed for kids
Attorneys expected from across Arkansas for probable cause hearing

Lawyers from across Arkansas will gather Monday in a Texarkana courtroom to advocate for 20 children taken last week from Tony Alamo Christian Ministries members and their parents.

A probable cause hearing for the children is scheduled for Monday at the Miller County Courthouse before Circuit Judge Kirk Johnson.

“We’re just trying to make sure that everybody is represented and that they have representation going into the hearing so the judges get the best information to go forward with these cases,” said Connie Hickman Tanner of the Arkansas Administrative Office of the Courts in Little Rock. “That’s the most important thing.”

Lawyers will be on hand Monday for parents who are eligible for court-appointed counsel. Tanner said to qualify, the parents must first request a lawyer, be found unable to pay for a lawyer themselves and had custody of a child when it was taken into state custody.

Tanner said some of the parents of the 20 children seized Nov. 18 have already called asking for help.

Allegations of sexual abuse, physical abuse and neglect prompted the Arkansas Department of Human Services to seek court orders from judges in Miller and Sebastian counties authorizing the removals.

Tony Alamo’s defense attorney, John Wesley Hall Jr. of Little Rock, delivered a letter to the AOC Thursday requesting lawyers from other areas. Hall’s letter also asked that “somebody responsible be at court on Monday” to provide oversight.

At least one of the children named on the Miller County order is alleged to be Tony Alamo’s biological child, though the child was not one of those taken by DHS. The name listed as the mother is not Alamo’s legal wife, Sharon Alamo.

Hall said he will be available Monday at the probable cause hearing so he can protect Alamo’s rights.

When attorneys are appointed for parents in civil custody cases, they must meet certain qualifications, Tanner said. The AOC contracts with qualified private attorneys to act as parent counsel and as ad litem attorneys for children.

Ad litem attorneys are appointed to act on behalf of a child or other person who is not considered capable of representing themselves.

Tanner said she may have to take a bigger dip into her budget this year to help pay the expenses of the traveling attorneys. Tuesday’s removal was likely the largest single one in Miller County’s history.

However, more than 100 children listed on the order were not found. Authorities are trying to determine their locations, said DHS spokeswoman Julie Munsell.

The local legal community would be hard pressed to serve the needs of all the children and parents involved. The AOC is taking steps to ensure lawyers are available for all who need them, though only a judge can appoint an attorney to a case.

Each of the “sibling sets” among the most recently seized children will be appointed an ad litem attorney.

Miller County’s three Circuit Courts each have a lawyer contracted to act as ad litem for children.

Amy Freedman works in Johnson’s court. She is assigned to represent one of the six girls removed from Alamo properties in September and will not be able to serve any of the 20 kids taken Tuesday.

Glen Hudspeth is usually appointed as ad litem in Circuit Judge Jim Hudson’s court and Nelson Shaw serves in that capacity in Circuit Judge Joe Griffin’s court.

The additional ad litems needed to represent the 20 will come from all over the state, Tanner said.

“It all boils down to the central principle of what is in the best interest of the child,” said Shaw of what an ad litem attorney does. “We address everything: who the parents are, how the child’s health is, is there a need for counseling.”

After assembling information from a variety of sources, including a child’s Court Appointed Special Advocate, an ad litem makes recommendations to the court.

“Amy, Glen and I take this job very seriously,” Shaw said. “Quite often I take it home. I think about the children assigned to me a lot more often than when I’m in court.”

Shaw said he will be acting as an ad litem at Monday’s probable cause hearing for the recently removed youth.

“We have good judges here. We’ve got people who care,” Shaw said. “I’ve been very impressed with the system here from the top to the bottom.”

Custody of the 20 children is scheduled to be addressed in a single case. However, Johnson could decide to sever the cases into multiple actions.

The number of people expected to attend Monday’s hearing could present challenges.

“I think anytime you are dealing with people’s children, you can expect some anger and anxiety,” Shaw said. “It could be volatile.”

The second floor of the Miller County courthouse will be closed to the public and media Monday while the hearing is conducted. Miller County Juvenile Court, where Griffin and Hudson have been presiding over final custody hearings for the six girls taken into custody two months ago, has also been closed.

In: 2008 - (Trial year)

| Back to Top |
Want to help?

Click the button!

Post A Comment

Please note: All comments are moderated. There is no need to resubmit your comment. Please submit a well thought out post with proper punctuation and spelling, so that it can be reviewed and posted promptly (as space allows).

Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.