COLORADO CITY, Ariz. Warren Jeffs, president and prophet of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, will not be compelled to testify in an eviction case involving a former church member.
Mohave County Superior Court Judge James Chavez ruled Thursday that the Arizona subpoena issued for Jeffs, who lives in Hildale, Washington County, was not valid. That subpoena was mailed to FLDS attorney Rod Parker at his Salt Lake office.
"This was not a close legal issue. It's basic, bar exam stuff," said Parker, following the conference call with Chavez in the Kingman, Ariz., courtroom and an attorney representing Ross Chatwin. "The subpoena power of a state court in a civil case does not extend beyond its own border to a case in another state."
Chatwin, 35, is fighting an eviction order to move his family from the basement of a home owned by and built on church property.
"This was a big deal to me. It was a bigger deal to me than it was to my attorney," said Chatwin, who was excommunicated from the FLDS church in November and later held a press conference to publicly denounce Jeffs as a Hitler-like dictator.
Chavez asked attorneys to file their supporting legal briefs by April 9, and scheduled closing arguments for April 14. The judge is likely to take the case under advisement before filing a decision.
The FLDS church, through a charitable trust called the United Effort Plan, owns most of the land and buildings in Colorado City and nearby Hildale, Utah. Most residents of the two towns are members of the FLDS church, which preaches and practices polygamy as a central tenet.
Faithful FLDS men are granted the right to live and build on UEP property, which can then lead to an arranged marriage. Families are often large, with multiple wives and more than a dozen children. Evictions commonly follow excommunications, which have become more frequent in the past few months.
Joan Dudley, Chatwin's pro-bono attorney with the county legal aid office, also was unsuccessful in her attempts to subpoena former FLDS bishop Fred Jessop and former church member Nephi Barlow. Jessop, who has not been seen in public for months, is a Utah resident, and Barlow no longer lives in Arizona.
"The UEP trust is a party to the case, not Warren Jeffs," said FLDS attorney Rod Parker. "Warren is simply the president of the church and the trust."
Jeffs, who is married to multiple women and lives in Hildale, does not grant interviews. Jeffs became FLDS president last year when his father, Rulon Jeffs, died. Over the past several months, Warren Jeffs has either excommunicated or disciplined more than a dozen men, including former Colorado City mayor Dan Barlow.Chatwin, who is unemployed with a wife and six children, said he is hoping to sign with a Las Vegas freelance writer to help him write a book about his experiences.