Attorney: FLDS prophet not subject to subpoenas from an Arizona court
ST. GEORGE — An Arizona State Court judge ruled Thursday not to call Warren Jeffs, the reclusive prophet of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, to testify in an eviction case that the polygamist church filed against an excommunicated member.
Judge James Chavez of Mohave County Superior Court in Kingman also refused the defense attorney’s request to dismiss the case against Ross Chatwin, who appeared in the March 2 hearing. Instead, the judge scheduled the final arguments of the trial for 2 p.m., April 14.
The case has been closely watched by many residents of the border towns of Colorado City, Ariz., and Hildale, Utah, the largest polygamist enclave in America.
With an estimated 10,000 members in the area, the FLDS church owns most of the area’s land and property through a trust, United Effort Plan.
Like Ross Chatwin, at least 30 men have been expelled, followed by notices to evict them from houses built on UEP land.
Rodney Parker, the UEP attorney who attended Thursday’s trial by telephone from Salt Lake City, said he was satisfied that the judge would not call Jeffs as a witness.
“It wasn’t a close call,” he said. “It was clear-cut from the beginning.”
Jeffs, who lives across the Arizona state line in a Hildale compound enclosed by 8-foot brick walls, is not subject to subpoenas from an Arizona court, Parker said. In addition, the subpoena was sent to him, not to Jeffs.
Joan C. Dudley, Chatwin’s pro bono attorney from Arizona Community Legal Services, said she was “very disappointed” that the judge would not allow Jeffs as a witness.
As president of the FLDS church, Jeffs, 48, is also the only potential witness from the UEP’s board of trustees, she said. All other trustees are dead, except for longtime bishop Fred Jessop, 94, who recently disappeared from the public eye after Jeffs expelled him from the church.
“He’s the only one that I know that is alive and that is making decisions of what’s happening in the community,” said Dudley, adding that she sent the subpoena to Parker because she couldn’t find Jeffs.
Parker, who communicates with Jeffs through a cell phone, told The Spectrum on Thursday that he didn’t know Jeffs’ whereabouts, either. But he said Jeffs, as a religious leader, is not relevant to the case, which was brought by the church’s trust.
“The trust is the plaintiff,” Parker said. “The court has no business second-guessing excommunication.”
Chatwin, 32, who held a news conference in January decrying Jeffs as a “Hitler-like dictator,” was excommunicated in November after allegedly pursuing two teenage girls without the prophet’s permission. Last month, he was told to leave the house on Willow Street in Colorado City, which was built by his brother David.
He said he moved to the basement quarters of the house with a bishop’s permission, and the UEP now has control of a house he built. While Judge Chavez has said no construction is allowed during the trial, Chatwin said, his brother Steven has started construction in the upstairs quarters of the Willow Street home.
As a “charitable trust for religious purpose,” Parker said, the UEP owns all FLDS members’ houses to “protect the sense of community.” Followers don’t pay mortgages, but only taxes and utilities.
“When people go into this, they go into it with their eyes open,” Parker said. “It’s not like a guy can’t live” or rent a home somewhere else.
With an eighth-grade education, Chatwin, whose auto sales business has been shunned by townsfolk after he was evicted, is now raising six children with his wife, Lori, on donated food and clothing.
“Where is he going to go?” asked Dudley. “Our client was born an raised there. He knows no other lifestyle.”