LITTLE ROCK — In a set of opinions issued Wednesday, the Arkansas Court of Appeals agreed with members of the Tony Alamo Christian Ministries that a Miller County judge made a mistake in a hearing concerning the removal of children from the ministry.
But the court upheld the judge’s decision, saying the parents had not raised the issue at the trial level.
The opinion concerned five boys who were taken into protective custody during a sweep of ministry properties in November 2008. Each of the boys has at least one sister who was removed from the ministry’s compound in Fouke during a raid two months earlier.
At a hearing on the boys’ removal in January 2009, attorneys for the Arkansas Department of Human Services asked Miller County Circuit Judge Joe Griffin to find that the boys were at risk of abuse because he had already upheld the removal of their sisters in an earlier hearing.
Griffin initially denied the request. However, after the Human Services Department presented its case, the department renewed its request for an order upholding the boys’ removal. Griffin granted the request without allowing the parents to present their case.
The “grant of a judgment or directed verdict for the plaintiff at the close of the plaintiff’s case-in-chief, which essentially forecloses the defendant from presenting his own case, is simply improper under our Rules of Civil Procedure,” Appeals Court Judge Robert Gladwin wrote.
Alamo convictedSee photos
Gladwin said in the opinion that the Human Services Department should have made a request for such an order after the parents had presented their case. But Gladwin upheld Griffin’s order because he noted that the parents did not raise the issue at the trial level. The court issued similar opinions Wednesday on appeals filed by three other sets of parents.
The five boys are among 36 children who have been removed from their homes in the ministry since September 2008 amid allegations that the ministry allowed underage marriages and punished violations of church rules with beatings.
Interviews with Teens from Alamo MinistriesWatch Video
Tony Alamo, the ministry’s 75-year-old leader, was sentenced in November 2009 to 175 years in prison after being convicted of taking five underage girls across state lines for sex.
Griffin and other judges have ruled that the parents must move off church property and find jobs outside the ministry in order to be reunited with their children. Last month, Griffin terminated the parental rights of several ministry members after child-welfare officials said they had made no progress in complying with Griffin’s orders.
In November, the Court of Appeals upheld the removal of five girls from the ministry. Appeals by other parents are pending.