Family vlogger Ruby Franke and her business partner Jodi Hildebrandt will continue to be held without bail until their next scheduled court appearance, Judge Eric Gentry said during a virtual hearing on Friday.
Franke and Hildebrandt were each charged with six counts of felony child abuse by the Washington County Attorney’s Office last week. Each count carries a prison sentence of up to 15 years and a fine of up to $10,000. The two were arrested on Aug. 30 after law enforcement found Franke’s emaciated 12-year-old son with open wounds and duct tape on his ankles and wrists after he had escaped from Hildebrandt’s home. Franke’s 10-year-old daughter was found in similar malnourished condition at Hildebrandt’s home.
Multiple outlets reported that the livestream of the hearing, held in St. George, experienced technical difficulties after over 1,000 people — including NBC News — tried to watch. The start time of the hearing was ultimately delayed.
Judge John Walton will now oversee both Franke and Hildebrandt’s cases, according to Tania Mashburn, a spokesperson for the Utah State Courts. Their next hearing is scheduled for Sept. 21.
Franke rose to fame in 2015 with the now-removed “8 Passengers” YouTube channel, which featured her, her husband, Kevin, and their six children.
Four of the six children are minors, who have now been placed under Utah’s Division of Child and Family Services.
She frequently collaborated on parenting and relationship advice videos with Hildebrandt for ConneXions, Hildebrandt’s life coaching service. The service has come under fire in the past for its extreme teachings, including rejecting children who do not abide by their beliefs.
NBC News affiliate KSL of Salt Lake City reported that attorneys for Franke and Hildebrandt said they intend to file motions soon to address the decision denying them bail in the case.
Douglas Terry, the attorney representing Hildebrandt, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday. A representative for the law office of Franke’s attorney, LaMar Winward, declined to comment.
Police had visited the Franke household in September 2022 after a neighbor had called to report that Franke had left her children alone for several days to spend time with Hildebrandt. A police officer noticed the children, but they refused to answer the door, according to a police report obtained by NBC News.
Police Lt. Warren Foster previously told NBC News that authorities made several attempts to follow up on the allegations. He added that inquiries from the Department of Child and Family Services yielded no results. DCFS were also reportedly called to the Franke household in 2020.
A spokeswoman for the DCFS previously declined to comment, citing confidentiality and privacy rules.
DCFS can be held accountable by an independent ombudsman who investigates child protection complaints against the agency. DCFS must also answer to a review group made up of state lawmakers, the Child Welfare Legislative Oversight Panel, which can make recommendations.
Rep. Christine Watkins, a chair of the panel, said Friday that she is aware of the Franke case through news reports and is planning to follow up with DCFS with her own questions about what occurred.
“I had concerns when I heard about the case. Not only were neighbors calling, but older siblings were calling, too,” she added. “It sounds like those kids were in pretty bad shape. And it’s certainly something we have the right to call DCFS out on to know what might have gone wrong.”
She also questioned whether Franke’s status as a well-known YouTube vlogger and the outward appearance she presented about her family may have influenced any child welfare investigations.
“If someone has the resources, they can cover up, they can disguise a lot of things,” Watkins said. “Even when kids go to court, kids can be told not to say anything. They can be intimidated by the situation.”
The Daily Mail reported that Franke appeared via video from a Utah jail on Thursday for a separate hearing held in juvenile court.
Mashburn confirmed the hearing occurred, but did not confirm details from the news report, telling NBC News it “was a child welfare case and records are private.” The next pretrial hearing in juvenile court is scheduled for Sept. 18, according to KSL.