Two of the government lawyers handling the massive child custody case involving the Fundamentalist LDS Church have quit.

"It is with great regret that I hereby tender my resignation as staff attorney for the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, effective Nov. 1, 2008, or at whatever earlier date may be most convenient and least disruptive to the operations of the agency," Charles Childress wrote in a resignation letter obtained by the Deseret News.

Childress, a highly regarded family law attorney who wrote many of the agency's courtroom policies when he worked there from 1997-2001, was brought back specifically to handle the FLDS case in July. Contacted by the Deseret News on Friday, Childress would not say why he was leaving.

"I really can't talk about it at all," Childress said.

Texas Child Protective Services officials also are not commenting on why Childress is leaving, but said they are in the process of reorganizing their legal team based in San Angelo, Texas, right now.

Childress is not the only lawyer who worked the FLDS child custody case to resign recently. Gary Banks, who was the lead counsel when the 439 children were taken into state custody immediately following the raid, resigned Oct. 3 to take a position with a Texas law firm.

"I have concluded this decision is best for me and my family, and I hope you will understand my decision," he wrote in an e-mail to his superiors.

Preparing for his departure, Childress said he expects most of the FLDS custody case will be wrapped up by the end of the month.

"I anticipate that we will have resolved all but a handful of pending cases through cooperative agreements with the parents, resulting in dismissal of the department's suits by early November," he wrote.

The remaining cases may end up going to trial next year. Three cases involving children either placed back in foster care or returned to their parents under family service plans will be up for dismissal in February 2009.

"The dismissal date for all other cases is April 13, 2009, although there is an argument that could be made against applying this deadline," Childress wrote.

To date, 415 people have been "nonsuited" by a judge in San Angelo in the ongoing custody battle. That leaves approximately 50 children still involved in pending legal cases. The Deseret News tally includes 26 "disputed minors," FLDS women that CPS initially believed were minors but later conceded were adults.

In April, child welfare workers and law enforcement responded to the YFZ Ranch in nearby Eldorado on a report of an abused, pregnant teenager involved in a marriage to an older man. The call is believed to be a hoax, but authorities said they found other evidence of abuse on the ranch.

A judge ordered the removal of all of the children, who were returned two months later when two Texas courts ruled the state acted improperly and the children were not in immediate danger of abuse.

Nine men, including FLDS leader Warren Jeffs, have been indicted by an Eldorado grand jury in connection with the case. They face charges ranging from sexual assault to bigamy to failure to report child abuse. Some of the men are due in court on Monday.


E-mail: bwinslow@desnews.com