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Authorities appeal court ruling
Child-welfare officials defend removal of children from Texas polygamist sect

SAN ANGELO, Texas - State child welfare authorities on Friday appealed a stinging court ruling that said their seizure of more than 440 children from a polygamist sect's ranch was unjustified, but they also agreed to reunite 12 children with their parents while the case moves on.

The agreement narrowly specifies 12 children, some of whose parents had filed a motion with a state district court in San Antonio for their release from state foster care.

Child Protective Services spokesman Patrick Crimmins declined to comment on the agreement.

CPS agreed to allow the parents to live with their children in the San Antonio area under state supervision, said Teresa Kelly, a spokeswoman for Rene Haas, an attorney for the parents. The families cannot return to the Yearning For Zion ranch, where they lived before the raid.

Aside from mothers staying with their infants in foster care, no other parents from the west Texas ranch have been allowed to stay with their children.

CPS's case for removing all children from the ranch was thrown into doubt Thursday when the Third Court of Appeals ordered a lower-court judge to rescind her decision giving the state custody of more than 100 of the children. The ruling was broad enough to cover nearly every child swept up in the April raid on the ranch run by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

CPS said in its appeal to the Texas Supreme Court that the appeal court was wrong to say that the vast majority of children at the ranch did not face the sort of extreme danger state law requires for them to be removed without a court order. The agency cited evidence it said showed that the church pushed teenage girls into spiritual marriages with older men.

'This case is about adult men commanding sex from underage children; about women knowingly condoning and allowing sexual abuse of underage children; about the need for the department to take action under difficult, time-sensitive and unprecedented circumstances,' the state agency said in its appeal.

The state asked to keep the children in foster care while the case is reviewed.

The limited agreement CPS offered covers 12 children, but it was unclear how many families that includes. Kelly said three of the children belonged to one family who had asked the court for their children's release. Kelly didn't know why the other nine children were attached to the agreement.

Lori and Joseph Jessop had been scheduled to appear in Bexar County district court on their motion to release their three children - ages 4, 2 and 1 - but CPS offered the agreement instead, Kelly said.

Similar agreements in the near future are unlikely; the couple filed their motion in a different court than the other families.

State officials said in their Supreme Court filing that it would be impossible to return all children covered in Thursday's ruling because they have not determined which children belong to which parents, and DNA tests were incomplete. The appeals court ruling technically applies only to the 38 mothers who filed the complaint.