Three months after California authorities announced an investigation into alleged failures in the care of 13 Turpin children rescued from a house of torture four years ago, the team tasked with investigating the situation has yet to access some court and county records at the heart of the case, due to confidentiality rules.
During a probate court hearing in Riverside County Thursday, lawyers for the adult Turpin children, the county, and an outside firm hired to investigate grappled with balancing the need for information with the Turpins' privacy.
Though the court session ended without resolution, the hearing made it clear that, months into their probe announced in November, the investigators have not been able to review many of the records they have sought.
Judge Kenneth Fernandez said he does not need to abide by anyone's timeline but his own in ruling on the request to turn over the records -- even though the county announced in November that investigators' findings would be turned over by the end of March, just one month away.
"We would very much like to be able to assess and evaluate these records in terms of the care to the Turpin family," said Hilary Potashner, a lawyer with Larson LLP, the firm conducting the investigation. "The assertions are serious and important to be reviewed."
The county had hired the outside firm to probe the county's treatment of the Turpin siblings after county officials and some of the adult Turpin children spoke out in an ABC News report that looked into allegations that the adult children do not have access to many of the resources and services guaranteed to them since they were rescued and placed in the care of Riverside officials.
Despite repeated requests by ABC News, county officials have yet to explain why it has taken so long for the preliminary steps in the outside probe to be taken, or whether the pace would delay the investigation. Riverside County spokeswoman Brooke Federico told ABC News on Thursday and Friday that explanations would be forthcoming, then on Saturday she wrote in an email that "sometimes this can take longer than originally anticipated."
On Monday, Federico told ABC News that the investigation into the county's adult and child welfare systems continues despite the delay. She said examiners have already been conducting "a critical part of the investigation" and information on the "updated timing" of the report would be forthcoming.
Watch the Diane Sawyer special event, "Escape From A House Of Horror," on Hulu.
After the 13 Turpin children -- who ranged in age from 2 to 29 -- were rescued, they were placed entirely under the care of the county; the adult siblings were placed in court-appointed conservatorships, while the minor children were placed in the foster system. There, the Turpins' case remained shrouded in secrecy due to state law that mandates confidentiality in all juvenile court proceedings, as well as an unusual blanket sealing order put in place in the adult children's cases, right after they were rescued, in order to protect them from the onslaught of media coverage.
At issue now is the strict confidentiality order shielding documents in the adult children's cases. None of the parties involved in the case are opposing that the records be turned over to investigators, where they would remain confidential -- but the firm representing some of the adult children in the case are asking a protective order to be put in place to prevent the documents from becoming public.
"Our concern would be although we think that the investigator appointed by the county should have access to everything, that there should be no risk that by the investigator getting it, it becomes public record and accessible to the public," said Kenneth White, an attorney for Brown White and Osborn, which represents some of the adult Turpin children.
During Thursday's probate hearing, which was held only in regard to the adult Turpin cases, Potashner disclosed to the court that the firm had also been unable to access the records for the minors.
The 13 Turpin siblings were rescued in January of 2018 from their family home in Perris, California, where authorities said they had been held captive by their parents, beaten, and deprived of food, sleep, hygiene, education, and health care. Last fall, an ABC News investigation found that some of the Turpin children continued to face challenges and hardships since they were rescued and placed in the care of the county. Some of them have even faced danger again.
"They have been victimized again by the system," Mike Hestrin, the Riverside County district attorney, told ABC News' Diane Sawyer in an interview last summer for the 20/20 special event, "Escape From A House Of Horror."
ABC News has filed a motion in Riverside County court to gain access to the records in the adult Turpin victims' case as part of its ongoing investigation into potential failures by the county to provide care for the victims. A hearing on the motion is scheduled for next week.