12/31/08 – Parents request legal aid

Texarkana Gazette
December 31, 2008
By Lynn LaRowe

Parents request legal aid
Alamo followers ask for court to appoint lawyers in custody case

Three Tony Alamo ministry followers whose daughters were among six taken during a September raid of church properties in Fouke, Ark., want the court to appoint lawyers to represent them at the state’s expense.

“For the purposes of the record this motion was filed by (the parents) pro se,” said Marshall Moore, one of the Texarkana lawyers who represented the parents of two girls in custody proceedings before Circuit Judge Jim Hudson in November.

The parents, who all work as “volunteers” for the ministry, have managed to pay Moore a total of about $70,000 toward legal fees though about $10,000 remains outstanding, Hudson said.

Moore and Texarkana attorney David James will no longer represent the parents if Hudson finds they don’t have the money to pay for their own lawyers.

Last month, after several days of testimony, Hudson ruled that both of the girls assigned to his court would remain in state care. Reunification with their parents would be possible only if economic, social and residential ties with Alamo ministries was severed, according to the ruling.

Hudson also ordered the parents to undergo psychological evaluations and attend parenting classes as recommended, said adjudication orders released by the court.

The parents must be supervised when visiting with their children and must not mention “… this case or any other pending juvenile or criminal matter related …” during visitation, the orders said.

Hudson made a number of “findings of fact and conclusions of law” that supported his decision to keep the girls in foster care.

“The parents were aware of multiple instances where Tony Alamo, through his direction to John Kolbek and others, intentionally caused harm to (children),” the order said.

One mother who was present in court Tuesday is alleged in Hudson’s order as having requested the beating of her 12-year-old daughter by Kolbek.

Hudson’s orders describe in graphic detail the alleged beating of Spencer Ondrisek, an 18-year-old former follower, at the hands of Alamo and Kolbek. Ondrisek testified in the custody hearings and in federal detention hearings for the now jailed evangelist.

“There was a pattern and practice instituted by Tony Alamo … to enforce by brutal, physical attacks, adherence to his will,” the orders said.

“(The parents) were aware that Tony Alamo claimed to be married to multiple wives during years 2006, 2007 and 2008,” said the orders. “These juveniles were allowed to sleep and stay in the residence of Tony Alamo unsupervised by anyone other than Tony Alamo and his co-polygamists.”

Hudson also found that testimony was truthful detailing forced fasting, sexual abuse by Alamo of young girls and the ministry’s acceptance of lying to nonmembers.

“(A former follower) was forced at the age of 15 to lie face down on Tony Alamo’s bed while being held by four adult females, known to her as the wives of Tony Alamo, while being beaten with a paddle …” the orders said.

Alamo’s defense attorney, John Wesley Hall Jr. of Little Rock, said he believes Hudson’s findings, as they relate to Alamo, are irrelevant because the church leader and his attorney were not fully allowed to participate in the custody proceedings.

The orders also found the medical needs of the children were neglected because their immunizations were not kept current and treatment was not sought for injuries suffered during “beatings with a wooden paddle.”

A failure to register the children in public school or provide them with an approved home school education was evidence of neglect, Hudson found.

The parents are scheduled to return to court for a review hearing in February.

If Hudson determines the parents are unwilling to comply with the conditions outlined in his orders as necessary for reunification, the Arkansas Department of Human Services may request a termination of parental rights.

Moore and James also represented parents of two sets of sisters, whose cases were assigned to Circuit Judge Joe Griffin.

Griffin said Tuesday he has not seen a similar order from the parents whose daughters are assigned to his court. However, Griffin did note the sisters—over whose cases he presides—had siblings who were among 20 other children taken into state care Nov. 19.

The parents of those children were given court-appointed lawyers and siblings will be handled in court as one case, Griffin said. That means the parents of the sisters assigned to Griffin’s court may already have court-appointed attorneys.

Nineteen of the children will appear for final custody hearings Jan. 12. One of them, a boy whose 18th birthday made it necessary for his hearing to be held earlier, has elected to take advantage of state services that could leave him with a state-funded college education and job training.

Four other children, brothers of the 18-year-old who were found in early December, will appear for hearings Jan. 12 as well.

Sebastian County Circuit Judge Mark Hewett will conduct a final custody hearing in late January for six children found in early December.

Removal orders signed by Griffin and Hewett in November listed more than 120 names of children believed to be living on ministry properties. To date, only 36 have been found.

In: 2000-2007

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