Rutherfordton -- A hearing regarding the disposition of Shana Muse's children was delayed for a third time Friday as the Department of Social Services asked to continue the case pending the outcome of an appeal which gave DSS custody of Muse's children.
Muse is a former Word of Faith Fellowship member whose four children were placed in DSS custody by an October 2003 court order which found the WOFF environment abusive.
That ruling, by Judge Randy Pool, was appealed and the North Carolina Court of Appeals ruling is expected soon.
Muse left the WOFF in September 2002 and ultimately sought counseling at a cult deprogramming center in Ohio. Muse left her children with the Covingtons during her time away and signed a agreement giving them temporary custody.
Muse returned and tried get her children back. DSS got involved and argued that Muse's act of leaving the children in a WOFF home was wrong because of the abuse DSS argues occurs in WOFF settings.
Muse actually supported DSS's argument because it amounted to the removal of the children from the WOFF setting.
Since Pool's ruling, the boys have stayed in foster care while some steps towards reunification have occurred. Friday's hearing was potentially a major step towards Muse getting the boys back.
DSS attorney Brad Greenway asked Judge Mark Powell Friday to not hold the scheduled permanency planning hearing until that Court of Appeals ruling is released.
A reversal of Judge Pool's ruling would make such a placement hearing moot, Greenway said.
The proceedings Friday related only to Muse's two younger boys, now ages 10 and 11, as her two teenage daughters have been emancipated and are considered legal adults.
The girls have returned to WOFF.
Judge Powell was leery about further delay in the case, but did grant the continuance. Muse's attorney Marvin Sparrow objected to the delay.
Most of Friday's time was spent hearing arguments by attorney Tom Hix regarding the legal standing of his clients, WOFF ministers Kent and Brooke Covington.
The Covingtons were in custody of Muse's children prior to the October 2003 court ruling.
Hix argued that it did not make sense that the Covingtons were not being included in the planning for placement of Muse's boys.
"I have never been given a reason why my clients have not been included," said Hix, citing the custody agreement Muse signed. "If we are not allowed to be part of the placement plan, meet with the placement team, then we are out and we can't get in."
Greenway said Pool's ruling, while not directly stating such, implies that any placement in WOFF would be unacceptable.
"By default, if the finding is that there is abuse in that environment then you are not going to seek reunification in that environment," said Greenway.
Sparrow said the statutes dictate reunification with biological parents is always the first goal.
"We believe DSS is exactly appropriate because it is our position that this is what the statutes says," said Sparrow. "Only on the showing that the biological parents are not fit would other parties be brought in."
Hix requested a series of documents from DSS related to placement plans, psychological evaluations, and names and address for mental health providers involved.
Judge Powell awarded a portion of those demands.
The case has now been tentatively rescheduled for Feb.15 with the hope that the Court of Appeals ruling will have been released by then.
The Court of Appeals releases rulings every two weeks with Feb. 1 and Feb. 15 being the next two release dates.