A lawyer for a 16-year-old girl taken in the raid on the FLDS Church's YFZ Ranch in Texas obtained a restraining order Friday against a high-profile member of the polygamous sect.
The restraining order accuses Fundamentalist LDS Church member and spokesman Willie Jessop of trying to coerce the girl into avoiding a subpoena to testify at next week's grand-jury proceedings.
"Based on my dealings with Willie Jessop, I believe that he exercises a great deal of control over (the girl), and I am certain that he is interested in protecting the church's interests and the interests of certain influential male members as opposed to (the girl's) legal interests," court-appointed attorney Natalie Malonis wrote in an affidavit filed in a San Angelo court and obtained by the Deseret News.
Judge Barbara Walther signed a temporary restraining order late Friday afternoon that also prevents the girl's mother from having any contact with Jessop. A more formal and detailed restraining order is likely to be filed next week and a hearing on whether to continue it will be held on Tuesday.
The girl was not immediately returned to her mother after an Austin appeals court, and the Texas Supreme Court ruled child welfare authorities acted improperly in removing all 440 children from the ranch. Instead, Malonis filed a special order seeking to have the girl returned to her mother but to have no contact with her father FLDS leader Warren Jeffs or with a man named Raymond Jessop. Raymond Jessop is not further identified.
Malonis said the girl is an identified sex abuse victim and that Texas child welfare authorities and law enforcement told her the girl had been "spiritually united" to a man shortly after turning 15.
In a letter sent to Walther Thursday, the girl denied being a sex abuse victim, said she was not pregnant and accused her attorney of acting against her wishes.
"I have tried to work with her since and have tried to cooperate with her," the girl wrote. "I have told her the truth, but she continues to make derogatory statements about my religion and my family."
Malonis says that she had a good relationship with the girl and her mother but that Willie Jessop interfered. During a meeting at the YFZ Ranch, Malonis said Jessop told her the girl needed an ad litem who would advocate for the FLDS lifestyle.
"Mr. Jessop informed me that if I was not willing to take such a stance in (the girl's) case, then I was 'against the FLDS' and he would get another lawyer for (the girl)," Malonis wrote. "(The girl) said nothing during the entire conversation, even when I directed my comments and questions to her."
Earlier this week, Malonis was told that the girl would be subpoenaed to testify before the grand jury. A couple of days later, she said, the girl sent her several hostile e-mails about being subpoenaed and refused to answer the phone. On Thursday, the Texas Attorney General's Office told her that the girl could not be found.
Malonis blames Jessop and sought a restraining order, including an affidavit from a private investigator working for lawyers suing the FLDS Church. Sam Brower also accused Jessop of intimidating him in the past.
Jessop, who has acted as a spokesman for the sect during the custody battle surrounding the hundreds of children seized in the raid, could not be reached for comment. But Salt Lake attorney Rod Parker, who has also acted as a spokesman for the church, said Malonis has her own agenda."Clearly this is a dysfunctional relationship between a lawyer and her client. This is a disturbing development in the sense that this lawyer is making these accusations based on hearsay and rumor," Parker said. "This lawyer is misrepresenting her client's desires. There is a huge conflict between this lawyer and (the girl). She deserves a new lawyer." Acting on a call, Texas authorities raided the ranch April 3. Walther ordered the removal of all of the children after authorities alleged a pattern of sexual abuse. The children were returned after the high courts in Texas ruled that the state acted improperly in removing all of the children, citing no immediate threat of abuse. Child welfare and criminal investigations continue.
Contributing: Nancy Perkins