June 30 –
Jury verdict. In a unanimous vote, jurors terminate all parental rights of the mother. In a 10-2 vote, jurors place the youngest and oldest girls in the state’s custody and place their middle half-sibling with her biological father.
July 2 –
Original date set by Judge Greg Wilhelm for entry of final judgment. Entry wasn’t made, but Wilhelm issued instead a letter ruling enjoining “all contact between the sole managing conservators and their charges, as well as any contact between the ad litems and the children. The court also ordered continued placement with the (maternal grandparents) indefinitely,” as noted in a July 25 motion filed by Sara Spector of the district attorney’s office on behalf of CPS; Gloria Ortiz, the attorney ad litem for the children and Susan Mason and Dan Altman, co-counsels for the middle girl’s biological father.
In his letter, Wilhelm requested transition plans for the children out of their maternal grandparents’ home, where they had been placed since July 2007.
CPS files its transition plan with the court that would have included movement of the children that same day from the maternal grandparents to a protected and secured foster/adoptive placement, with further transition of the middle girl to her biological father in Iowa.
The mother’s attorney, Mark Griffith, sends a letter to the court from a licensed professional counselor working with the girls saying she doesn’t support the immediate transition of the children.
“However, if it is the court’s decision to move forward with this decision, the girls and their grandparents should have regular unsupervised visitation weekly. Their mother should maintain her previous visitation schedule,” the counselor writes, saying the middle girl (after her move to Iowa) should continue to have phone calls and in-person visits with her maternal grandparents and mother.
“I am unwilling to comment on the level of supervision for her mother as I have never spoken with the mother and have no knowledge of her appropriateness to visit with the children unsupervised,” the counselor writes. “However, if the grandparents have been trusted to supervise the visits, thus far, it is my opinion that (they) be allowed to continue supervising.”
Wilhelm issues additional orders allowing a CPS caseworker and a court investigator the authority to have physical access to the children without notice to the maternal grandparents. He grants the biological father of the middle girl daily telephone contact with his daughter and restrains the mother from any access, communication or contact with the children.
Wilhelm warns that any violation of any of his orders “may mandate the immediate removal of the three children” from the maternal grandparents home.
July 8 –
Attorneys for the biological father of the middle girl file a transition plan for her to join him in Iowa.
The maternal grandparents also file a transition plan and note their intent to appeal if Wilhelm denies their motion for judgment notwithstanding the jury’s verdict. The plan asks the judge to name them temporary managing conservators of the children and prevent CPS and the biological father of the middle girl from removing the girls during the appeal. Their plan notes that the mother “should not see any of her daughters for a minimum of one year and then only with the consent of the appropriate counselor and custodial caregiver.”
Griffith files a motion on behalf of the mother asking Wilhelm to “disregard all of the jury’s findings” and verdict. The motion proposes allowing the mother severely limited rights, continued placement of the children in the maternal grandparents’ home and continued involvement by CPS. The biological father would be allowed “one weekend a month of his choosing with 15 days’ notice” and additional days per Texas’ standard visitation.
Hartley files a motion on behalf of the maternal grandparents asking for judgment notwithstanding the jury verdict.
“The jury’s verdict is not supported by even a scintilla of evidence that the findings were in the best interest of the children and is, therefore, legally insufficient,” the motion reads, adding that there were only “unsubstantiated inferences that the (maternal grandparents) knew of the respondent mother’s mental health condition or that she was falsifying pediatric conditions resulting in the excessive medical treatment of the children.”
July 9 –
Wilhelm requests electronic and editable copies of recently filed motions. He also asks CPS to provide an electronic and editable copy of its proposed final judgment.
Attorneys for CPS, the children and the biological father file responses, including one against the requests to overturn the jury’s verdict.
On behalf of the children’s attorney, a psychiatrist writes a letter refuting previous comments by the licensed professional counselor who advocated against an immediate transition. The psychiatrist said more harm exists in the girls’ remaining in the maternal grandparents’ home, noting, “Based on court documents, it is clear that (the maternal grandmother) is unable to put the children’s physical and emotional well-being before that of her daughter … who has an established and protracted history of mental illness.”
July 11 –
Hearing held relating to motions filed in the case. A transcript of Wilhelm’s closing remarks in the case includes, “… the court is not going to belabor and delay its ruling on all of those orders. … I will be working over tonight and over the weekend and on Monday evening and Tuesday evening, whatever time it takes to make sure that we are not dragging this thing waiting for a long process.
“I believe that the law gives me discretion in timing the entrance of that judgment,” the transcript reads, “but I don’t think it is unlimited nor would I want it to be. Worst thing you need is a judge to wait 18 months to enter a jury verdict if they’re going to. That clearly is improper. That doesn’t help these children.”
July 15 –
Wilhelm issues a “clarifying order” allowing CPS and the children’s attorney ad litem (Ortiz) and guardian ad litem (Melissa Bousquet), immediate access to information and the children.
July 17 –
Susan Mason, co-counsel to the biological father, writes Wilhelm asking for his immediate attention to the entry of the jury’s verdict, noting, “Immediately following the verdict, this court recognized the need to avoid the very delay now occurring. If anything, it appears that this court may be seeking to find some middle ground that will allow the terminated mother to regain rights to the children based on some speculative promise of improved future behavior.”
Mason cited the Fourteenth Court of Appeals, which stated in a similar proceeding, “There will always be a temptation to find a middle way between leaving a child in a dangerous situation and terminating all possibility of reunification. But such compromises inevitably mean leaving the children in limbo, when what they need is permanency and security. By requiring all termination suits to be completed within a year, the Legislature made clear that courts cannot leave children in foster homes indefinitely while existing parents try to improve themselves and their conditions.”
July 18 –
Wilhelm denies the mother’s motion for judgment non obstante veredictor and maternal grandparents’ motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict.
July 24 –
Guardian ad litem Melissa Bousquet files a letter of concern with the court, saying, “It is imperative that these children are no longer left, not only in limbo, but in a placement situation (with the maternal grandparents) that a jury has determined was not in their best interest. Further delay only causes further harm to three children who have experienced way too much harm already.”
July 25 –
Wilhelm sends out a 14-page document, “Trial Court’s Memorandum, Order Appointing Transition Master, Order Appointing Transition Coordinator and Order for Placement of Children.” He directs all parties to correspond with the coordinator as “due to the transition master’s existing professional commitments, I believe that you may be delayed in receiving timely replies to any telephone calls, faxes and such directed to her office. In the alternative, one of the transition coordinator’s duties will be to communicate with each of you in a timely fashion.”
In the memorandum, Wilhelm writes he “is not now questioning the jury’s verdict” and notes a timeline of seven to 10 days for the girls to be transitioned from the maternal grandparents to a foster placement – with the middle girl transitioned from there to her father in Iowa.
July 28 –
The district attorney’s office on behalf of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, the attorney ad litem for the children and attorneys for the middle girl’s biological father file a motion objecting to the appointment of masters and re-urging placement per the jury’s verdict.
July 30 –
The district attorney’s office on behalf of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services files a writ of mandamus with the Tenth Court of Appeals in Waco. The filing seeks to compel Wilhelm to enter the jury verdict and also stay the motion appointing masters.
July 31 –
The appellate court requests briefs from parties in the case on the writ, giving a deadline of 5 p.m. Aug. 7. The court also orders a temporary stay of Wilhelm’s order appointing the masters.
July 31 –
Wilhelm sends a letter to Waco advising the justices that he intends to enter the jury verdict and that he had already set a hearing Aug. 11 on the district attorney’s office and others’ motion objecting to the appointment of masters. (The hearing was originally set for Aug. 6, but was cancelled due to Hartley, the maternal grandparents’ attorney, being on a pre-scheduled vacation).
Aug. 1 –
The transition coordinator writes Wilhelm saying that she and the transition master had ceased their work on the case until further notice as a result of the appellate court involvement. The coordinator provides a “tentative” transition plan that indicated the children were to have been removed from the maternal grandparents’ home Aug. 4, with good-bye visits with the mother and grandparents Aug. 8. The plan indicated the middle girl was to have moved to Iowa on Aug. 18 to start school Aug. 21.
“I feel it is important that I provide you with the tentative transition plan as outlined by (the transition master) in hopes that these children are placed in their respective homes without further delay,” the coordinator wrote, adding her prayer that the parties involved “may continue to work together for nothing other than … the best interests of these children.”
Aug. 7 –
Responses due to the appellate court.
Aug. 11 –
Hearing set in Wilhelm’s court.