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Ex-FLDS members sue Warren Jeffs, Salt Lake law firm

Ex-FLDS members sue Warren Jeffs, Salt Lake law firm

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SALT LAKE CITY — A group of former Fundamentalist LDS Church members are suing imprisoned polygamous leader Warren Jeffs and a Salt Lake law firm, claiming the attorneys helped further his illegal activities such as marrying underage girls and child labor.

An attorney representing Snow, Christensen & Martineau said the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court on Wednesday is without merit and that he would file a motion to dismiss it as early as Thursday.

Starting in 1997 or 1998, Jeffs directed the law firm, a piece at a time, steps designed to create the appearance of legal recognition of practices under the guise of religion when in fact it was criminal enterprise, according to the 121-page lawsuit.

Jeffs used the lawyers to create a misplaced belief among church members that what he was doing was legal, the suit says. Those illegal acts include rape, kidnapping, forced labor, extortion and sexual servitude.

Brent Hatch, outside counsel for Snow, Christensen & Martineau, said he understands the grudge former FLDS members have against Jeffs and the legal claims they might want to pursue against the church. But it shouldn't be directed at the "venerable" law firm that represented the church ethically and professionally.

"This is clearly a misguided effort by some plaintiffs' lawyers seeking another avenue for cash," he said.

Hatch said the complaint is so convoluted and lacking in merit that he is drafting a motion to dismiss it "less than a day after it was filed. That's how serious we're taking it."

Jeffs is serving a life sentence in Texas after being convicted in 2011 of sexually assaulting girls he considered brides.

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit go into great detail about how Jeffs, who "held himself out as the absolute ruler by divine right," broke up their families, evicted them from their homes, forced them to work without pay and kicked them out of the community. They seek monetary compensation for physical and emotional injuries, medical expenses and loss of property and earnings. Email: romboy@deseretnews.com Twitter: dennisromboy

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Dennis Romboy

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