ST. GEORGE — Defense lawyers in a lawsuit alleging ritualistic sex abuse of young girls by former polygamous sect leaders have asked a Utah court to dismiss the suit because the plaintiff used a pseudonym rather than her real name when she filed it.
The lawyers argue that the suit was never legally filed because the plaintiff – identified as R.H. – failed to get a judge’s permission to use the pseudonym. And because it wasn’t properly filed, the court does not have jurisdiction to hear the case, they argue in a motion filed with the 3rd District Court in Salt Lake City.
High-ranking leaders of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints are accused of carrying out a “calculated plan” of ritualistic sex abuse involving girls as young as 8 years old in the lawsuit filed in late December against former FLDS President Warren Jeffs, his brothers Lyle Jeffs and Seth Jeffs, former FLDS leader Wendell Nielsen, the FLDS church and the United Effort Plan Trust, the church’s former land trust.
The UEP Trust was taken over by order of a Utah state court in 2005 appointing a special fiduciary in response to accusations that Warren Jeffs and other FLDS leaders mismanaged it; the responsibility of the special fiduciary has since been reduced and the trust is now largely run by a court-appointed board of trustees. Since the 2005 intervention, communal property has been subdivided and farms and other businesses have been claimed by the trust as taxes went unpaid. It has been overseeing distribution of church property in Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Arizona.
The UEP Trust filed the motion to dismiss, which prompted a response from R.H. seeking permission to proceed without her real name, a strategy UEP’s lawyers say should be rejected.
“If Plaintiff believes that she has good cause to appear anonymously, she should file another complaint listing her real name, while simultaneously seeking court permission at the time of filing to file the complaint under seal to protect her identity. Her belated effort to seek permission now cannot salvage the jurisdictional defects of the present case,” according to the trust’s memorandum filed last week in support of its motion.
As part of their FLDS beliefs, sex between underage girls and priesthood leaders took place, the lawsuit alleges, noting that after President Rulon T. Jeffs suffered a stroke in August 1998, much of his power and authority was delegated to his son Warren Jeffs, who began a new practice involving ritualistic sexual intercourse with young girls in the FLDS temple and other FLDS properties.
“Sex with girls, ages eight to 14 years old, was initiated by Warren Jeffs, along with leadership of UEP Trust and the FLDS Church, including the Twelve Apostles of the Church engaging in and witnessing the sexual relations between Warren S. Jeffs, Lyle Jeffs, Seth Jeffs and Wendell LeRoy Nielsen and other John Does viewing, watching, taping, participating in and documenting these sexual encounters with underage girls.”
R.H., a 21-year-old woman, alleges she was given a number by which she was known during these religious rituals and she was never called by name, but only by number.
“This horrific religious doctrine and religious rituals as performed on plaintiff consisted of plaintiff, beginning at the age of 8, having a bag placed over her head, led out of her house by representatives of the defendants, placed in a vehicle and being driven to an unknown location,” according to the lawsuit. Once reaching the unknown location, the bag would be taken off the girl’s head and she would be disrobed and required to engage in sexual acts with the defendants while others watched as part of the ritual.
“Warren S. Jeffs told (R.H.) that if she told anyone of these encounters, God would destroy her and her family immediately,” the lawsuit states. He also reportedly said that if she cried during the ritual, “God would punish her.”
The rituals reportedly occurred five to six times a week until R.H. turned 12. When she was 14 years old, the lawsuit alleges, she was required to witness and document other girls’ ritualistic abuse with church leaders.
“The existence of this religious doctrine and rituals is verified in the evidence that was found in the FLDS Church’s Temple in Eldorado, Texas,” the lawsuit alleges. “Defendant Warren S. Jeffs has been convicted in Texas of engaging in such conduct in the FLDS Church’s Temple in Eldorado, Texas.”
R.H. contends the abuse continued when she turned 16 and began taking part in “Ladies Class” to learn how to be a good wife. During those classes, R.H. alleges, Lyle Jeffs would escort her out of class and into his soundproof office, where he would sexually assault her “under the guise of further teachings” in the class.
Members who questioned the FLDS leader’s absolute power, control and authority would suffer the loss of their homes, families and support through expulsion from the UEP Trust and FLDS church.
“(FLDS leaders) taught that FLDS church members and UEP Trust participants should follow the laws of God, not man, with respect to laws prohibiting sexual relations between underage girls and adult men (and) … taught that the underage girls should engage in sexual intercourse to accomplish the doctrinal goal of the FLDS church to raise up good priesthood children.”
R.H. has asked for a jury trial and is requesting physical and emotional damages as well as attorney fees and any other relief as the court deems reasonable, according to the lawsuit.
The UEP Trust’s memorandum, in addition to buttressing its motion for dismissal, attempts to counter statements included in R.H.’s opposition to the motion.
“The Trust vigorously denies Plaintiff’s false accusations that the Trust is seeking to harass, intimidate, and punish Plaintiff. This is simply not true. The Trust is merely performing its duty to defend itself and to protect its assets for the benefit of its charitable beneficiaries.”
The trust, in its filing, claims to not know the identity of R.H., which it argues prevents it from defending itself against her allegations.
If this case were to proceed, it would be very important for the Trust to do a thorough investigation as to the veracity of Plaintiff’s allegations – which would require interviewing witnesses who may have knowledge as to the matters alleged in the complaint (including parents, siblings, housemates, and neighbors). Yet, Plaintiff’s proposed restrictions would forbid the Trust from disclosing her identity to such witnesses, rendering it very difficult for the Trust to ascertain the truth.
There is nothing improper about the Trust acting vigorously to defend itself against Plaintiff’s allegations. Plaintiff improperly tries to equate the Trust with Warren Jeffs, but this is simply not the case. The Trust consists of thousands of charitable beneficiaries, many of whom were also victims of Warren Jeffs. Indeed, the Trust itself was a victim of Warren Jeffs, as he breached his fiduciary duties as trustee (which breach resulted in the probate court’s removing Warren Jeffs as trustee). Given such facts, it would be wholly unfair to require the Trust to pay for the sins of Warren Jeffs. Why should multiple victims (the Trust and its beneficiaries) be forced to compensate a single alleged victim (the Plaintiff) for the misconduct of Warren Jeffs?
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