FLDS Teen’s Lawyer Stays, Judge Says
By Ben Winslow Deseret News
SAN ANGELO, Texas — It got ugly.
The hearing over who should represent a 17-year-old member of the Fundamentalist LDS Church took some strange twists on Thursday, with attorneys outed as working for the polygamous sect, allegations of interference and lawyers putting each other on the witness stand.
Ultimately, a judge here refused to remove Natalie Malonis as the court-appointed attorney for Teresa Jeffs.
“I don’t see any authority for a parallel attorney-client relationship to exist,” Texas 51st District Judge Barbara Walther said.
But the judge also allowed San Antonio attorney Alan Futrell to continue to act as counsel for Jeffs in the ongoing criminal probe surrounding the FLDS Church.
“He has to work with me,” Malonis said as she left the courthouse.
Jeffs wrote a letter to the judge seeking a new attorney ad litem, something supported by lawyers hired by her mother. They argued that Malonis has acted against her client’s wishes, including preventing her from visiting the YFZ Ranch, having contact with her father (FLDS leader Warren Jeffs), and other restrictions.
“What we have, in my opinion, is a circumstance where the attorney-client relationship is broken,” said attorney Ken Isenberg, an attorney hired by the FLDS Church. “Like a divorce, sometimes they need to go their separate ways.”
Malonis has said that following her client’s wishes would have placed her in a dangerous situation. Throughout the contentious hearing, Malonis’ side argued the FLDS Church was putting pressure on Jeffs, causing any breakdown in her attorney-client relationship.
They pointed to Isenberg and other lawyers retained by the Utah- based polygamous sect sitting in the courtroom. Just as Thursday’s hearing got under way, Malonis’ co-counsel sought to have Isenberg removed from the case.
“He was hired by the church to represent the mothers and gave advice not to answer questions on the fathers of their children,” Susan Hays said.
“I do not believe it is a conflict for me to be here any more than Ms. Malonis to be prosecuting a motion against the wishes of her client,” Isenberg replied.
Isenberg was later put on the witness stand, where he was grilled about going to a makeshift shelter at Fort Concho just after the April raid on the FLDS Church’s YFZ Ranch and speaking to the women there as they faced questioning by Child Protective Services workers. It was detailed by one of Jeffs’ sister-wives in a posting on an FLDS Web site.
Isenberg, who said he represented the church and no mothers or children, stopped short of calling it legal advice but merely a “suggestion.”
“I suggested they wait until they retained a lawyer before disclosing any additional information because there was civil and criminal matters at stake,” he said.
Isenberg said he was hired by the church to help members get lawyers to represent them. At Thursday’s hearing, he said he was assisting Futrell in putting on his case.
Malonis also pointed out an attorney whom she said had been hired to represent Lloyd Barlow, an indicted FLDS man, conferring with Isenberg and Futrell during a break.
Teresa Jeffs is alleged to have been married at age 15 to a man who has already been indicted by a grand jury on sexual assault and bigamy charges. A CPS caseworker testified Thursday she is one of Raymond Jessop’s nine wives. Teresa Jeffs has repeatedly insisted in news media interviews and Internet postings she is not a sex abuse victim.
When two Texas courts ordered the hundreds of children taken in the raid on the YFZ Ranch returned, Jeffs was exempted. Malonis sought special protections for her, something she testified that Jeffs’ mother, Annette, agreed to.
At this point in CPS’ investigation, six other families have since had restrictions limiting their visits to the YFZ Ranch and their contacts with their fathers, CPS investigator Angie Voss told the court.
“Our investigation has found 48 percent of men at the ranch are involved in underage marriage practices,” she testified.
Futrell’s side sought to show that Malonis’ relationship with Jeffs was damaged ever since those special restrictions were put in place against Teresa’s wishes, pointing to a terse conversation the two had in May. Malonis also later obtained a restraining order against FLDS member and spokesman Willie Jessop.
“Counsel talks about an appearance of conflict. Conflict in this case is sitting to my left,” Isenberg said in his closing statements, referring to Malonis. “She has a duty to zealously advocate for her clients.”
That is something Malonis has done, attorneys for CPS and the Court Appointed Specialty Advocates argued to the judge.
“Even from the beginning, she found a creative way for Teresa to go home to be with her mother while protecting her,” said CASA’s Connie Gauwain. “She has taken a lot of hard knocks, personal hard knocks, but she still hangs in there.”
Walther met with Teresa Jeffs for about an hour behind closed doors. Jeffs left the meeting appearing calm, but saying nothing.
Malonis said she believes her relationship with her client can be salvaged.
“Absolutely,” she said. “I still have a working relationship with her.”
(c) 2008 Deseret News (Salt Lake City). Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.