Seizure trampled rights, church tells court
Lawyers for members of the Church of God ask the judge to reject
nearly all evidence.
By JONATHAN SHER, Free Press Reporter
ST THOMAS -- Family and Children's Services trampled on the
rights of an Aylmer family when it seized seven children, the
parents' lawyers argued yesterday.
A trial that some thought would examine practices of Aylmer's
Church of God and the limits of corporal punishment, will first
address issues that could change the balance between the social
agency and parents accused of abuse.
The parents' lawyers argued the court should toss out virtually
all evidence because of the way it was collected.
Their argument was opposed by lawyers for the children and the
agency, the latter saying such a move would place abused children
at the mercy of their abusers.
"You are relegating the child to being a chattel to be used by
the parents as they see fit," said agency lawyer Alfred Mamo.
While the agency is seeking protection for the children, it is no
longer asking the court to remove them from their home. Instead,
the agency asked the court to order 12 months of supervision and
conditions that would include a ban on corporal punishment.
Opening statements were brief because of a publication ban.
Justice Eleanor Schnall ruled she'll hear all evidence before
deciding what, if any of it, will be made public. Media can
attend the trial, but can only report scant details about who
testified and the general nature of testimony.
The ban was opposed by the social agency, whose lawyer compared
it to a "veil of secrecy." The public should scrutinize the acts
of the agency and the family, Mamo said.
Supporting a full ban were lawyers for the children and the
parents, the latter doing so even though the church has long
claimed the parents wanted publicity.
[emphasis mine, see comment below -ed]
As recently as December, Aylmer Pastor Henry Hildebrandt posted
the following appeal for publicity on a Web site that espouses
"It is obvious that a matter of this magnitude deserves public
attention. It has been a continuous appeal by this family to the
church that this matter be publicized."
While lawyers were barred from speaking of the alleged facts
yesterday, they were permitted to lay out legal issues.
Many issues were triggered by the event that brought the family
and church on to the international stage -- on July 4, 2001,
police and the agency, confronted by church members, removed the
children from their home. They were returned July 26, 2001,
pending the end of the case.
Mamo outlined many of the legal issues:
- Did the child agency act legally when it seized the children?
- Does the agency have the right to ask questions of parents in
an abuse investigation, and can the agency draw a negative
inference if the parents refuse to reply?
- When parents allegedly abuse a child, must they consent before
their child can be questioned by the agency?
- After the agency apprehends children, can it interview them
without parental permission? Should statements by parents or
children after apprehension be admissible?
- Can parents refuse to file documents or provide answers to
questions that would incriminate them?
- If the agency apprehends children in a questionable way, must
the court exclude evidence of abuse that is gained as a result?
Mamo made clear the agency is seeking to protect the children
from what it deems excessive corporal punishment. "Children who
are hit with an object need to be protected," Mamo said.
The issue of medical neglect will play a supporting role, he
The question of a ban was argued Monday, but not allowed to be
published until after yesterday's proceedings.
"It is undisputed that this case has gained a notoriety through
no fault of the children," Schnall said in her ruling.
Comment on article by case observer
The publication ban is not what it sounds like it in the newspaper. This is what it is saying: Don't report any parts of the evidence until
everything has been heard.
I think it is a good idea. But the reporters are allowed to report on a daily basis regarding the proceedings.
I think the way it is right now is in the best interest of the family.
Jonathan Sher is in my opinion a very unbalanced reporter, to say the least.