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Fight over control of polygamous church begins

Published: Friday, April 1 2011 11:56 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — A rival church elder is fighting to keep jailed polygamous sect leader Warren Jeffs in charge of his Utah-based church after another member seized the presidency this week.

In papers filed with the Utah Department of Commerce on Thursday, Boyd L. Knudson claims that William E. Jessop never had authority to assume the role as president of the corporation that is the Fundamentalist LDS Church.

"I declare that according to church rules, William Edson Jessop has never been upheld by the church congregation as president of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Common consent is required by the church," Knudson wrote in an affidavit.

Knudson is the church's registered agent. Four other people considered Jeffs loyalists, including his brother Lyle Jeffs, also filed affidavits with the department in support of Jeffs' presidency.

Jessop, 41, took over the church Monday after filing papers with the department. Knudson now seeks to reinstate Jeffs as president, which sets up a potential legal battle as the two vie for control.

Jeffs, 55, remains jailed in Texas while awaiting trial on bigamy and sexual assault charges.

Commerce spokeswoman Jennifer Bolton said Tuesday that if Jeffs mounted a challenge to Jessop, the department's Division of Corporations would place a "hold" on Jessop's papers and grant both sides up to 30 days to prove their right to the presidency.

If it can't be resolved, the state will ask the courts to settle the matter. A legal loss for Jessop would mean the church's presidency reverts back to Jeffs.

Rod Parker, an attorney who represents the FLDS church in civil matters, declined to comment Thursday.

In 2007, while in a southern Utah jail, Jeffs seemingly ceded the presidency of the 10,000-member church to Jessop.

"I know of your ordination, that you are the key holder, and I have sent a note with my signature so that there is no question," Jeffs told Jessop in the Jan. 24, 2007 telephone call. A recording of that call and others were released by the Utah courts.

In other calls at the time, Jeffs told family members and other church leaders that the presidency belonged to Jessop.

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