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Polygamous sect leader's daughter wants to ditch her attorney

Published June 23, 2008 12:23 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2008, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

An FLDS teenager is taking a dispute with her attorney public, claiming the attorney is making her life "harder" and asking the lawyer to "please leave me alone."

Teresa Jeffs, 16, a daughter of polygamous sect leader Warren S. Jeffs, gave The Salt Lake Tribune on Sunday a copy of an e-mail she sent Natalie Malonis, of Flower Mound, Texas, after seeing news reports about her case. On Friday, Malonis won a court order banning contact between an FLDS spokesman and the girl.

"The most help you will be to me now is for you to step aside and let me get a different lawyer that I feel like can help me," Jeffs wrote in the e-mail.

She said her attorney ad litem is "trying to restrict me from every person in my life that I want to talk to or have anything to do with."

In a telephone interview, Jeffs said Malonis is "fighting my own father and made it so I can't write to him." She has visited her father once since his arrest and incarceration in 2006.

Warren Jeffs is serving two five-to-life sentences in Utah after being convicted of rape as an accomplice for a marriage he conducted in 2001 between a 14-year-old girl and a 19-year-old man.

She also wants to be able to return to the Yearning for Zion Ranch with her mother and siblings.

"I need a new attorney for sure," Jeffs said.

Malonis, who represents two other FLDS children, defended her actions on behalf of Jeffs and said she believes the teenager is being pressured by the sect.

"There is no question I am absolutely looking out for her," Malonis said. "What's happening is really a shame because people who purport to care about her are really doing her a disservice."

Malonis said she just wants Jeffs to be free of any outside influence and make her own decisions. "Right now, that's not happening," the attorney said.

In court papers filed Friday, Malonis alleged that Jeffs' push for a new attorney was due to coercion from FLDS spokesman Willie Jessop and asked 51st District Judge Barbara Walther to bar them from having contact. Walther temporarily ordered Annette Jeffs, the girl's mother, to keep her from Jessop and set a court hearing in the matter for Tuesday in San Angelo.

The action came a day after Jeffs sent the judge a letter asking for a new attorney because she is unhappy with how Malonis is representing her.

Under Texas Family Code, an attorney ad litem represents a client's position in court, unless a child is not acting in her own best interest. A guardian ad litem represents what is in a child's best interest - which may be contrary to what a minor wants.

Jeffs said she has met her guardian ad litem just once but has had three meetings and numerous e-mail and telephone conversations with Malonis. Jeffs said the conflict with Malonis began before Walther released some 440 FLDS children from custody earlier this month.

Jeffs and the other children were taken into state custody in April after Texas Child Protective Services alleged sexual, physical and emotional abuse were occurring at the Yearning for Zion Ranch, home to members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

Walther granted Malonis' request that Jeffs be reunited with her mother and siblings under special restrictions, making her the only child governed by such an order. The order says Jeffs may have no contact with her father or a man named Raymond Jessop. She also is prohibited from living at the YFZ Ranch.

The Salt Lake Tribune had withheld Jeffs' name because Malonis alleged she was a victim of sexual abuse - something Jeffs adamantly denies.

"I am so sick of being called that when I am absolutely not a victim of sexual abuse and you have no evidence to prove that I have ever had sexual relations," she said in her e-mail to Malonis.

Malonis had told Walther during a court hearing in May that she suspected Jeffs had a child, but later acknowledged that is not the case. In her restraint motion, Malonis said she had been told by CPS and law enforcement that Jeffs was spiritually married to an older man when she was 15.

The teenager is among FLDS members who have been called to testify before a grand jury meeting in Schleicher County next week.

She denied that anyone was influencing her desire for a new attorney, telling Malonis that "you need to realize that I have a mind of my own and I can do things on my own if I choose to."

Writing to the judge was "my own dear choice," she said in her e-mail. "Quit blaming it all on someone else when you have absolutely no proof. No one can change my mind, not even Willie!"

brooke@sltrib.com