SAN ANGELO, Texas — A hearing over who should represent a 17-year-old member of the Fundamentalist LDS Church will resume here today.

Wednesday's hearing on whether to replace Natalie Malonis as the court-appointed attorney for Teresa Jeffs was plagued with delays, closed-door conferences and feuding lawyers.

The contentious hearing ended late in the evening with one attorney refusing to give back an evidence exhibit Malonis had withdrawn, prompting the judge to order another closed-door meeting.

Lawyers packed the tiny courtroom here to listen to a series of legal questions on whether Malonis should continue to represent Jeffs.

"The question is whether or not the parents have a right to select the attorney ad litem or whether the court does," said Texas 51st District Judge Barbara Walther.

Alan Futrell, a San Antonio lawyer hired by Jeffs' mother, Annette, to represent the girl in an ongoing criminal probe, is seeking to have Malonis replaced as her attorney ad litem.

"There are no allegations that I have failed to perform my duty," Malonis told the judge. "The young lady has expressed a preference for another ad litem."

Malonis has argued that if all her client's preferences were followed, it would place her at risk.

"She is substituting her judgment for the child in conflict with her wishes," Futrell told the judge.

Jeffs sent a letter in June to the judge, seeking a new lawyer. A Child Protective Services worker testified that Annette Jeffs said her daughter had help in crafting it.

"Annette told me Teresa talked to several adults and was thinking about getting a different ad litem," CPS worker Angie Voss said.

Malonis sought special protections when the girl was returned to her mother in June, after two Texas courts ordered all of the children taken in the YFZ raid to be released from state custody. Jeffs was ordered to have no contact with her father, FLDS leader Warren Jeffs, and her purported husband, Raymond Jessop.

The girl is believed to have been married at 15 to Jessop, who has been indicted by a Texas grand jury in connection with criminal allegations of sex abuse at the FLDS Church's YFZ Ranch. Jeffs has gone public in news media interviews and on Web sites insisting she is not a sex abuse victim.

Malonis has said she maintains a working attorney-client relationship with Jeffs, something Futrell disputed. While trying to express her client's wishes, Malonis asked the judge to meet with her 17-year-old client in chambers with no attorneys present.

"The child has expressed she would like to do that," Malonis said.

The nation's largest custody case involving hundreds of children from the FLDS Church's YFZ Ranch is trudging on, with four more children being "nonsuited" on Wednesday.

Among them is an 8-year-old boy who was also being represented by Malonis. Futrell sought to have her replaced in that case as well, but the judge dismissed it since he has now been removed from court oversight.

The number of FLDS children nonsuited by Texas Child Protective Services now stands at 261, including 26 "disputed minors" whom the agency claimed were children, but later conceded were adults.

"From our standpoint, nonsuiting means we don't believe the family situation requires court oversight. There may still be some oversight by the department," agency spokesman Patrick Crimmins told the Deseret News on Wednesday, just after more filings were made.

The reasons for nonsuiting vary from no evidence of abuse, to children who have aged out of the system or parents have taken appropriate steps to protect their children from abuse.

Only one child has been placed back in foster care: a 14-year-old girl whom CPS alleges was married at age 12 to FLDS leader Warren Jeffs.

Hundreds of children were placed in state protective custody during the April raid when authorities responded to a call alleging abuse at the polygamous sect's property in nearby Eldorado. The 440 children were returned to their families two months later when a pair of Texas courts ruled the state acted improperly.


E-mail: bwinslow@desnews.com