ST. GEORGE — A Utah judge last week denied a defendant’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit alleging ritualistic sex abuse of young girls by former leaders of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
The United Effort Plan Trust, the church’s former land trust, had asked the 3rd District Court in Salt Lake City to dismiss the suit because the plaintiff used a pseudonym rather than her real name when she filed it. The trust argued that the plaintiff – identified in court records as R.H. – failed to request the court’s permission to proceed anonymously, meaning the suit was filed improperly and therefore the court had no jurisdiction to hear it.
However, Judge Vernice S. Trease found that it would “be practically impossible for a plaintiff to make such a request at the time of filing because the plaintiff could not file a motion … seeking approval to proceed anonymously until a complaint has been filed with the court and a case number and judge have been assigned.”
She added that “a plaintiff seeking to proceed anonymously must be allowed to file a complaint using a pseudonym and then be given a reasonable amount of time afterwards to file a motion seeking permission from the court to use a pseudonym in the place of their real name. To hold otherwise would defeat the purpose of allowing the plaintiff to use a pseudonym.”
The original complaint was filed Dec. 27 and an amended complaint about a month later, according to the judge’s six-page ruling issued June 27. In those complaints, R.H. said she feared potential retaliation and physical harm by members of the FLDS church and asked that her name not be disclosed.
The UEP Trust at first didn’t challenge the use of a pseudonym but instead sought a change of venue to the 5th District Court. However, on April 28 it filed its motion to dismiss based on the pseudonym.
R.H. subsequently asked the court for a protective order and permission to proceed anonymously. Trease found that to be “within a reasonable amount of time.”
The judge also said she will rule on R.H.’s request for a protective order and on the UEP Trust’s challenge to the venue.
The lawsuit accuses high-ranking FLDS leaders of carrying out a “calculated plan” of ritualistic sex abuse involving girls as young as 8 years old.
In addition to the UEP Trust, other defendants include former FLDS President Warren Jeffs, his brothers Lyle Jeffs and Seth Jeffs, former FLDS leader Wendell Nielsen and the FLDS church.
In 2005, a Utah judge appointed a special fiduciary to take over the UEP Trust 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 once controlled by the church in Colorado City, Arizona, and Hildale has been subdivided and farms and other businesses have been claimed by the trust as taxes went unpaid. It has been overseeing distribution of the property.
As part of their FLDS beliefs, sex between underage girls and priesthood leaders took place, the lawsuit alleges. 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,” the lawsuit alleges, “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 that 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.
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