The court-appointed lawyer for a 16-year-old member of the Fundamentalist LDS Church refused to testify before a grand jury investigating crimes within the polygamous sect.
"I asserted my attorney-client privilege," Natalie Malonis told the Deseret News on Thursday.
It led to a problem in Wednesday's proceedings. San Angelo Judge Barbara Walther had to be called for a brief hearing, Malonis said. The judge ultimately ruled that there was not sufficient grounds to compel her to testify.
Malonis has been involved in a legal spat with her child client, Teresa Jeffs. The daughter of FLDS leader Warren Jeffs is demanding a new lawyer, saying in e-mails made public that Malonis is not acting in her best interests.
"Right now, in my eyes, to me you feel like an enemy to me," Jeffs wrote to Malonis. "I hear that you are subpoened (sic) and what do you think I would think of that? I feel like I am trying to be my own attorney right now trying to win against you because you are doing so many things that are not in my best interest."
Malonis obtained a restraining order against FLDS member and spokesman Willie Jessop, accusing him of trying to coerce Jeffs into avoiding a grand jury subpoena and interfering in her relationship with her client. Malonis has said in court papers that Texas child welfare workers and law enforcement told her that her client was "spiritually united" to a man at 15. In interviews and e-mails, Jeffs has adamantly denied being a sex abuse victim.
When an Austin appellate court and the Texas Supreme Court ordered the hundreds of FLDS children taken in the April raid on the YFZ Ranch to be returned to their parents, Jeffs was exempted. Malonis said at the time it was because her client was an identified sex abuse victim. She was returned to her mother with special conditions, including no contact with her father and a man named Raymond Jessop, whose relationship to Jeffs has not been disclosed.
Malonis said it was her obligation to refuse to testify.
"The client has to be able to communicate with an attorney and know that those communications are kept confidential," she said.
She did worry that by making her e-mails public, Jeffs may be waving attorney-client privilege.
"That's what I'm afraid of," she said. "If that keeps happening, at some point the judge will compel me to testify."
The normally secretive grand jury proceedings have become very public because of the legal tug-of-war between Malonis and Jeffs. Malonis has been criticized for her actions and has even been escorted to and from court by police because of death threats she said she has received.A number of FLDS women and girls were seen going into the Schleicher County Courthouse on Wednesday to give testimony before the grand jury. Law enforcement officers also testified. The grand jury is expected to meet again next month.