Judge Removes Children – Update

Tim Lambert

Last week I reported on the Tutts, a home schooling family who had their children removed by a Dallas County judge in what we believe was an illegal order. While the court date in front of a new judge is scheduled for January 7, and we are praying that the new judge will be reasonable and that the Tutts will have their children returned to them, I wanted to give an update.

As many of you are likely very aware, the outrage that this situation has generated has resulted in a high level of traffic on our website, which has caused an issue with slow loading, and I apologize for that. We are taking steps to resolve the technical aspect of the issue, but the site is still slow during peak times. At this point, more than 7,500 people have signed the petition calling for the return of the Tutts’ children to them, including more than 200 from outside the United States.

I mentioned in my report that I had written a letter to the guardian ad litem appointed by the judge to represent the interests of the children. I wrote this letter because after visiting their home the guardian ad litem had told the Tutts that she did not have concerns about the safety of the children, the Tutts’ parenting ability, or anything at all. Her only concern was the fact that in her opinion the children were behind academically and that therefore she would not agree to recommend to the court that the children be returned to their parents unless the Tutts agreed not to home school their children.

The guardian ad litem responded to my letter by saying, “Thank you for your information. Please do not contact me again unless I contact you. Your letter can be deemed as inappropriate contact and an attempt to influence a court-appointed guardian. I am required to conduct my own independent investigation and speak with all of the parties. If there is information I need from you I am glad to know I can contact you.” While I think this was an attempt to intimidate me, as was her copying the message to an official of the court, it didn’t work.

As I mentioned, my letter clearly laid out Texas law with regard to home schooling. I included a memo from the Texas Education Agency and a memo that included a policy statement from the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) that spells out how CPS should deal with allegations of abuse or neglect against home schooling families. I copied my letter to the commissioner of DFPS, to the assistant commissioner of CPS, and to the CPS educational program specialist in Austin who had signed the memo outlining this policy.

Later last week I received a call from that same CPS official who had signed the memo. She pointed out to me that in spite of the fact that the guardian ad litem did not seem to like or appreciate my letter, she believed it was accurate. She also offered to be a resource if necessary in the case.

During the discussion of this case on my blog, there were several readers who referred to the judge in question as a liberal, and some who challenged that this matter was not a conservative vs. liberal issue. I could not agree with the latter more. In fact, there are more Republican judges on our Texas Judicial Wall of Shame at this point than Democratic judges. The real issue is this: There are some judges who do not respect the fundamental right of fit parents to direct the care, control, and upbringing of their children and instead believe that they have the right to make any decision that they believe is in “the best interest of the children.” Along with that low view of parental rights, these judges very often are not willing to require CPS to follow the restraints of the Texas Family Code, which includes protections for parents. These judges are most willing to give CPS caseworkers and attorneys whatever they ask for, in spite of what the law requires. In other words, they are overlooking the requirements of Texas statute for what CPS says is in “the best interest of the child.”

The grave travesty that has been perpetrated against the Tutt family is the result of a judge not doing what she is required to do under Texas law. Consequently, I suggest that the most effective way to deal with such judges is to make sure the public is aware of these types of abuses. Recently a Houston judge involved in a parental rights case, whom we highlighted on the Texas Judicial Wall of Shame, was also exposed for potentially unlawful actions in her court. While the district attorney failed to get an indictment against this sitting judge, the negative publicity resulted in three opponents in the Republican primary running against her in March.

The moral to that story is this: The best way to deal with judges who perpetrate these kinds of injustices is to expose them to the public and then defeat them at the ballot box. That is our plan. In addition, we will pursue other strategies that may include legal options, but those will be pursued later, after the children have been returned to their family. Our current focus is to bring as much public attention to this case as possible and to help the family get their children back.

 

Tim Lambert – has written 164 posts on this site.

31 Comments on “Judge Removes Children – Update”

  1. Doesn’t this Judge have an appointed position? Which Judges appointed her? Can those in the voting district be letting the appointing judges know that they will not be voting for them if they don’t vote a different appointee in? Can voters be calling the DA or AG to investigate this judge’s ruling and the treatment of this family?

    • Yes, the judge in question is appointed, but now is not the time to make calls regarding this. The time will come but now the focus needs to be on the hearing tomorrow and the return of their children.

  2. chrisfrazier33@gmail.com

    You’re awesome, thank you for all you are doing for the Tutts! Your swift and excellent support has convinced us to join THSC!

  3. I home schooled both of my kids. One now 32 and one 22 and they took GED’s to show they had a diploma because at the time the Military did not allow home school diploma’s. One of them scored in the top 10 percent highest in the state and the other one was in the top 20 percent. Home Schooling can even be done online and with the parents as a guide. It is a wonderful tool. They can still have interaction with other kids. There are so many more avenues now that I didn’t have. I think that the state should stay out of this families life. Unless they are abusing these kids. I had nosy neighbors that called the police on me because they would see my kids outside during the day when other kids were at school. I had all my paper work in order so nothing ever came of it. But sometimes people can be nosy and judgmental. God Speed to this family!

  4. Has anyone thought to involve the ACLJ? I bet they would jump at a chance to defend this family!

  5. Andramona Ridge

    This has absolutely been an outrage in my household, seeing what the Law is becoming among families that home school their children. I admire parents who take it a step above the school system in teaching, educating facts and being in the comfort of your own home. The school system in Irving ISD is below grade level and does not teach the children on grade level. My child attended public school at age 5 to 10 and yet other districts were more advance in the same similar grades. Soon as I started home schooling this year, my child has aced her level including at age 10 to be on 8th grade level. She loves it. I am able to monitor her strengths and this family deserves to have the Rights to raise their children accordingly without harm. I support all that THSC has done and I support the family 100%.

  6. Can the THSC set up a donation account specifically for getting the Tutt children back and taking action to make sure other Texas children aren’t taken in this militant manner. This falls under the same parental rights category as the Tebow Bill last spring and yet the two THSC efforts seem in direct conflict, because of the “we are stronger in number and don’t need to hide behind private schools” stance last spring. I want to support the THSC with both prayers and money but strongly feel litigation to distinguish home schools and private schools fuels this kind of reckless action by CPS, “child advocates” and judges. The fact that these children were taken Nov 21st and have yet to be returned to their parents, the only reason cited being that they are privately educated, should sound a loud alarm to all Texas parents! Isn’t the legal battle less costly and the risk much lower to those of us whose private school looks more like the Tutt’s than that of the Sandefer’s if no clear distinction exists between the two in the state code?

    • Julie,
      THSC Paental Rights Litigation Fund is used in these kinds of cases and is not connected to our lobbying efforts.

  7. You have a “Parental Rights Litigation” Fund that is used for this type of battle and not used for Tebow Bill type Lobbying?

  8. This is the first that I’m hearing of this so this question may have already been addressed but how did this family’s parenting get called into question in the first place? Meaning, why did a CPS worker even go out to investigate? Did someone report the family for something? I’m not up to date on home schooling laws so maybe there are home checks done periodically??

  9. Any updates regarding the hearing from today?

    • From our local contact in the court:

      The judge ordered 4 of the children home, they are going to be in public school while evaluations of some sort are done (this hearing went from… 2 to 10:30, it was still a massive beatdown of homeschooling in general and the Tutts in particular) the 2 children who were in process of adoption remain in foster care pending ??? and the bio son from a previous marriage remains in the temporary custody of his bio dad.

      The judge did recognize that there wasn’t cause for removal, but then the education really was the focus, along with some custody issues.

      the 4 kids being returned will be brought home tomorrow AFTER SCHOOL because they don’t want to disrupt their day… with reuniting them with their parents who they were wrongfully removed from for 2 months…

  10. The facts of this case are actually very disturbing but NOT the way you have written. Alligning your organization the way you have will deliver a devastating blow to your credibility when the real facts come out and destroy the credibility of those who legitimately teach their kids at home. The other issues are criminal including representing herself as an extension of CPS to take kids away from their parents. I am shocked your organization condones such behavior.

    • This family WAS legitimately teaching their children at home. You folks who want to claim that being behind academically or not using an accredited curriculum is reason to take children from a fit parent need to familiarize yourself with Texas law regarding home schooling. Oh, and by the way the judge in yesterday’s hearing ruled that they should have four of the children returned. That fact undermines your assertions.

  11. Tim, a little background information for you, I have been employed as a Legal Assistant in Huntsville, TX about 2hrs north of Houston and 4 hrs south of Dallas. I fully support what you are doing and I agree that there is a flaw in our judicial system regarding homeschool parents.
    However, the guardian as liitem attorney is correct, they must conduct their own investigation. The Tutts attorney may call you to be a testifying witness or to issue a statement to be read in Court, however, it is inappropriate for her to receive this letter and not provide a copy to each attorney or party on a case and to the Court. I would also ask that you correct your statement regarding the “Houston” judge you referred to. She is not
    from the Houston metroplex and has never served as a judge for Harris County. That particular judge was from Livingston which is a considerably smaller town and was a district judge for Polk, Trinity and San Jacinto counties. Also it should be noted that the former assistant district attorney to whom she sent the text message was elected to a district judge position.
    Again, I fully support your views and opinions but public information should be checked and verified before posting to a well read forum. Livingston is a small town and really should be given the recognition it deserves.
    Regards and prayers for the Tutts!!!!

    • Thanks for the corrections. To be clear, I did copy the letter to the ad litem to the attorney representing the family and the family. We will correct the information regarding Judge Pratt. We did link to articles in the Houston Chronicle on this issue, but we will make the corrections.

      • Seems as if I responded too soon. Our information on Judge Pratt in Houston is correct. There maybe a judge Pratt in Livingston but the one we highlighted in our Texas Judicial Wall of Shame is Judge Pratt from Housotn.

  12. Tim, I need an intelligent response to a friend who has said ”
    And the guardian ad litem is exactly right. While I’m sure the author is a concerned citizen, as far as the LAW is concerned the author has no standing.” about this article. I am sure that you know the law much better than I do. What would you say to this person.

    • Jamie,
      In spite of what these well meaning folks might think, The Texas Family Code defines abuse and neglect and that definition does not include the educational status or performance of a student. In other words, Texas there is no such thing in Texas as “educational neglect.” The other point I would make is that these folks would probably not have a problem with a child’e educational status or performance if they were in a public school and yet here they are advocating for the taking of children if they are academically behind if they are being taught by parents. That is a double standard but the bottom line is what these folks are advocating is not consistent with Texas law.

  13. So, a judge in TX can break numerous laws, with huge implications for parental rights in this state and we should not contact our AG who seems intent on keeping the president from doing the same on a national level? Doesn’t he have more jurisdiction over this?

    • Julie, we will be calling for action, but at this point our first goal is to get the children back to their parents. We will also be looking for the most appropriate action to begin with and others as we move forward on this issue. Four of the children were ordered returned to their parents yesterday, although they are required to be in public school at this point, which is also unacceptable.

  14. I am speaking of getting the children back to the parents. How was this appeal and return of children accomplished in about 6 weeks without the “public school” conditions and under much more serious allegations?
    http://trailblazersblog.dallasnews.com/2012/11/abbott-seeks-to-seize-polygamist-mormons-west-texas-ranch.html/

    • It was due to the publicity around the case and the many attorneys working for these families.

  15. Do Polygamist Mormon parents under investigation for child molestation have more resources than TX homeschoolers for getting children (taken illegally) returned to their parents?

    • Jerri Lynn Ward

      Those polygamist Mormons were Texans and were treated like cattle. The “advantage” they had is they got more press coverage and therefore more attention from attorneys concerned with constitutional issues. The problem with individual families is that their neighbors are sheep-like enough to believe the government. Therefore, they get isolated.

  16. One thing that has not been made clear. It the GAL a CASA volunteer or an attorney serving a dual AAL/GAL role? I have less problems with a professional making the statements this GAL has made then I do with a CASA volunteer. CASA has a reputation of simply parroting the views of CPS; failing to conduct their own investigations as Texas law requires.

  17. I would like to know where you are getting your facts from. Have you actually read the documents filed with the Court, or are you getting your information from the family?

  18. Jerri Lynn Ward

    Is the guardian ad litem an attorney or part of CASA?

  19. I am a homeschooling mom of 7 children. Three of my children are mine biologically, two through a foster care adoption, and two we are pursuing adoption for and are currently in foster care and public school. This story hits home for me on so many levels, and the Tutt’s have been in my daily prayers. My heart breaks for them as I couldn’t imagine if this situation were to happen to me. I’m sure her children aren’t behind at all. Just learning on their level and in their own time. I have one child that did not learn to read well until 8 and now I cannot get her nose out of a book! God created us all differently therefore we all learn differently. Please pass along my sincere well wishes & prayers for the entire Tutt family! God bless!

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