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Warren Jeffs child-bride lawsuit halted, trial may be cancelled

Published July 1, 2014 4:59 pm

Courts • Judge issued a stay in the case until the Utah Supreme Court rules.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Though a judge issued a stay Tuesday which halted proceedings in a near-decade old lawsuit that pits a former child bride against a polygamous trust run by the state of Utah, a January 2015 trial date for the civil case stands — at least for now.

In May, the Utah Supreme Court agreed to hear arguments in the MJ v. Warren Jeffs case, where attorneys will argue whether a polygamous trust should be held liable for what happened when a 14-year-old girl was forced to marry.

"MJ" is Elissa Wall, who is suing the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, its imprisoned leader Warren Jeffs, and the United Effort Plan.

Third District Judge Keith Kelly ruled Tuesday that it was appropriate to halt proceedings in the civil case until the Supreme Court rules on the issue, which will likely take several years. But the judge told attorneys that he was hesitant to issue the stay, because UEP's assets could be dispersed by the time a new trial date could be set — leaving no money for Wall if a jury rules in her favor.

Ultimately, Kelly issued a temporary stay, and did not immediately cancel next year's trial. He opted instead to set an Aug. 19 hearing where he will hear from attorneys and then decide on an appropriate bond or security amount that will ensure assets will still be available after trial. If UEP does not wish to post a security amount, Kelly said the stay will be lifted, and trial will go forward in January as scheduled.

Wall is seeking $30 million to $40 million from the trust and other defendants. But only the United Effort Plan is defending the lawsuit and is presumably the only defendant with any assets to pay a judgment.

Wall was raised in the polygamous FLDS. She was 14 when she was forced to marry her 21-year-old cousin Allen Steed. Jeffs helped arrange the union.

Wall later left the marriage. Jeffs was charged in state court in St. George with rape as an accomplice. Wall's testimony helped convict him in 2007, and Jeffs received a sentence of life in prison. But in 2010, the Utah Supreme Court overturned the verdict due to faulty jury instructions.

In 2011, Jeffs, 58, was convicted in Texas of sexually assaulting two girls, ages 12 and 15, he took as spiritual wives. He is now serving a life prison sentence.

Steed was later charged with sex crimes in Utah, but the criminal case was settled in 2011 when Steed entered a plea in abeyance to a reduced charge and served 30 days in jail.

jmiller@sltrib.com

Twitter: @jm_miller