New Lawsuit Filed Against Warren Jeffs

New Lawsuit Filed Against Warren Jeffs

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- A woman who claims she was forced as a young teenager to marry a much older man to fulfill her duties as a member of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is now suing church leader Warren Jeffs, accusing him of arranging the union.

The civil lawsuit was filed Tuesday in Cedar City's 5th District Court, Court Executive Rick Davis said. The case will be heard by Judge Michael Westfall but has not been scheduled for a hearing.

The lawsuit names Jeffs and the FLDS church corporation as defendants, asks for a jury trial and unspecified monetary damages for the woman, who in court papers is identified only as "M.J."

"The nonconsensual spiritual marriage, the required sexual relations and M.J.'s resulting pregnancies have been physically and emotionally devastating to M.J," court documents state.

The lawsuit contends that Jeffs performed the marriage ceremony without her consent and then commanded her and her new husband to "multiply and replenish the Earth."

It also contends Jeffs conspired to commit battery and sexual abuse on a child because M.J. was too young to be legally married in Utah.

A message from The Associated Press seeking comment from Jeffs left at church offices in Eldorado, Texas, was not immediately returned.

Based in the twin cities of Hildale, Utah and Colorado City, Ariz., the FLDS church teaches its members that plural marriage is an essential part of their glorification in heaven. As the spiritual leader of the church, Jeffs is said to arrange and perform marriages for church members. The faith is estimated to have between 6,000 and 10,000 members, some of whom have moved to Texas in the past year.

Jeffs, 49, has not been seen publicly by church outsiders in more than a year. He is currently considered a fugitive by the FBI and has been indicted in Arizona on charges of sexual assault and conspiracy to commit sexual conduct on a minor.

In May, a Utah judge also removed Jeffs and five others as trustees of the United Effort Plan Trust, which holds the church's real estate assets. Court documents obtained by The Associated Press do not give the woman's current age, her age at the time she was "married," when the marriage occurred or how many children she has. Her husband is referred to only as "S.J."

The woman's attorney, Roger Hoole, says the absence of detail is an effort to protect the woman's identity, at least for now.

"I am going to do everything to protect her," Hoole said.

He said the lawsuit was filed in Cedar City because that was the most convenient place for the woman, but he would not say where she lives.

That the woman has decided to sue Jeffs is a sign that something in Hildale and Colorado City might be changing, Hoole said.

In recent years, police and prosecutors in both Arizona and Utah have increased scrutiny on the practices of the FLDS church, resulting in some prosecutions, and possibly some shift in the cultural norms.

"More young women are coming forward in an effort to stop these coerced, underage marriages," Hoole said. "I think that things are coming to head in that community. People are starting to realize that there's no future living in the fear that Warren Jeffs creates to keep his followers loyal."

Hoole said he did not know if a parallel criminal investigation into the alleged underage marriage is under way by any Utah authorities.

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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