Control of polygamous sect could be headed for court

Published: Tuesday, April 5 2011 9:08 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah state officials are blocking any further attempts by rival church leaders to seize control of Warren Jeffs' polygamous sect, which likely means a judge will decide.

The commerce department's Division of Corporations has placed an administrative hold on the two legal entities that comprise the Hildale, Utah-based Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. The hold is in place until May 2, according to a memo from the division's director, Kathy Berg.

Last week, church elder William E. Jessop, 41, filed to take over the church presidency from Jeffs, who is currently in a Texas jail awaiting trials on criminal charges of bigamy and sexual assault of a minor.

Days later, Jeffs loyalist Boyd Knudsen shot back with a counter-filing that removed Jessop and reinstated Jeffs. Knudsen, the registered agent for the church corporation, also claimed in twin affidavits that Jessop had falsely claimed any authority in the church.

In a second set of affidavits filed Monday, Knudsen claimed some 4,000 members unanimously voted Sunday to support Jeffs' presidency.

The papers also say the same group renounced Jessop as "not a part of said church."

It's not clear from the filing where the "general assembly" of church members occurred. The papers say church members stood to "raise their hands and voices" in Jeffs' favor.

Utah Department of Commerce spokeswoman Jennifer Bolton said Tuesday she could not say which person is now recognized by the state as the FLDS president.

When types of disputes arise in corporations, commerce officials grant the parties up to 30 days to settle the matter, or look to the courts to settle the dispute.

Rod Parker, a Salt Lake City attorney who represents the church in civil court matters, declined to comment on Tuesday.

A message left for church spokesman Willie Jessop also was not returned.

Jeffs, 55, has been the president and ecclesiastical head of the FLDS church since 2002.

In 2007, after being convicted in Utah of rape as accomplice charges, he handed over the job as president to another church leader. In January, however, that elder resigned and Jeffs reinstated himself.

Jessop, the former bishop of the FLDS border towns of Hildale and Colorado City, Ariz., has said his attempt to assume the presidency fulfills a 2007 directive from Jeffs himself.

"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.

Jeffs told his family and other church leaders the same thing in other calls made at the same time. Recordings of the calls were released by the Utah courts as part of Jeffs' case.

Jeffs is set for trials later this year in Texas. A court has entered not guilty pleas on his behalf. His Utah convictions were overturned last year.

Get The Deseret News Everywhere

Subscribe

Mobile

RSS