Months of hearings, restraining orders, depositions and allegations of sexual abuse were washed away Friday when a Tom Green County district judge dismissed almost entirely a case involving the nearly 18-year-old daughter of polygamous sect leader Warren Jeffs.
Citing the decision last week by the state’s Child Protective Services agency to drop the girl from its investigation, 51st District Judge Barbara Walther ended all ongoing litigation in the case, leaving open only the question of who should pay the attorney fees.
Walther in one decision wiped out a growing number of motions, including several filed just before the hearing’s 9 a.m. scheduled start – and one as late as 9:01 a.m.
The petitions were a jumbled series of accusations, defenses and requests for sanctions, testimony and the sealing of several documents. They included a motion to quash a subpoena filed against a Standard-Times reporter. The subpoena sought testimony about how the newspaper obtained a deposition transcript last week.
In dismissing the case, Walther provided a pleasant surprise for attorneys representing members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, which has been fighting investigations on multiple fronts since an April raid of its Schleicher County ranch by CPS and law enforcement on allegations of child abuse.
Walther’s actions close, likely for good, one of the highest-profile and most contentious aspects of the long-running litigation surrounding the FLDS.
The 17-year-old girl is alleged in the sect’s own documents to have been married to a 34-year-old man just after her 15th birthday, but CPS – determining the girl, who turns 18 in July, no longer is at risk for abuse – dropped her from its investigation Jan. 26.
The dismissal also includes Natalie Malonis, who for months has been a focal point of controversy in the case for her representation of the girl, despite the girl’s own stated wishes for a new attorney.
Walther rejected Malonis’ contention that she should remain to ensure Annette Jeffs was given full custody of the girl.
Malonis had argued that a series of prospective witness statements from CPS in December stating that the girl had been in a “harmful, abusive environment” should be considered before Walther dismissed the case.
“The court can take notice of many things,” Walther replied, “but the court must follow the law. The court cannot make the law. … This is an unusual case, but I don’t see any authority for you to continue. You can seek to have me overruled. It’s happened before.”
After the hearing, Malonis filed a letter with Walther reiterating her request to compel testimony from sect elder and ranch leader Merril Jessop and sect spokesman Willie Jessop as a way to determine the finances of the group and elicit payment of attorney fees rising from the case.