Warren Jeffs

Lawyers for Fundamentalist LDS Church leader Warren Jeffs are objecting to the release of any more sealed records in the polygamous sect leader's criminal case.

"Mr. Jeffs respectfully asks this court to keep sealed from public access all sealed records, including the jailhouse conversations and all other audio and video recordings made during or prior to his incarceration," defense attorney Wally Bugden wrote in papers filed late Thursday in St. George's 5th District Court.

The judge handling Jeffs' criminal case recently unsealed a series of documents that were filed prior to the FLDS leader's September trial. A hearing is scheduled next week to discuss requests by news media outlets and a private investigator to release the jailhouse tapes.

Arguing to keep the tapes and other papers sealed, Bugden said Jeffs' constitutional right to a fair trial in Arizona is jeopardized by the release.

"The records that are currently under seal, including the private recordings and the jailhouse conversations in their entirety, contain highly inflammatory statements and information the public release of which would carry a high risk of unfair prejudice," Bugden wrote.

Earlier this week, 5th District Judge James Shumate suddenly released a series of previously sealed documents, including defense papers that made reference to Jeffs' jailhouse conversations. It is a common practice for jails to record any inmate's conversations, and Washington County sheriff's deputies said that practice continues at the Purgatory Jail.

In the recordings, defense attorneys revealed that Jeffs declared to family and followers that he had been "immoral" with a sister and a daughter, and renounced his title as prophet of the FLDS Church.

Jeffs later recanted the remarks.

The tapes have been under seal, after Shumate declared that they had the potential to prejudice the jury pool in Jeffs' rape as an accomplice trial. The Utah State Courts said Shumate offered no explanation for his decision to unseal the papers.

Referring to the judge's decision to release the documents, Bugden noted that the summaries of the jailhouse conversations were widely publicized.

"The recent release of court documents should not persuade the court to further jeopardize Mr. Jeffs' right to a fair trial in Arizona by releasing all sealed records," he wrote.

Jeffs, 51, was recently convicted in Utah of first-degree felony rape as an accomplice and will be sentenced Nov. 20. He is accused of performing a marriage between a 14-year-old girl and her 19-year-old cousin. In Arizona, Jeffs faces charges of sexual conduct with a minor as an accomplice, as well as incest as an accomplice, accusing him of performing more child-bride marriages.

Bugden argued that claims by the news media of a "public interest" in releasing the tapes would not be served.

"The public also has an interest in ensuring fairness in Mr. Jeffs' pending criminal trials, and in protecting personal privacy," he wrote. "The interests of the public actually weigh in favor of nondisclosure."

E-mail: bwinslow@desnews.com