SALT LAKE CITY — Attorneys for a polygamist sect leader charged with rape by accomplice for his role in arranging a marriage between an underage girl and her cousin want news cameras banned from court proceedings.
Lawyers for Warren Jeffs made the request in response to an April 5 story in the Deseret Morning News of Salt Lake City, which digitally enhanced a photograph to glean some contents of a note written by Jeffs at his lawyers’ desk during a hearing.
Jeffs’ attorneys contend that was a violation of his right to privacy.
Jeffs, 51, the leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, is charged with first-degree felony counts of rape as an accomplice for his role in a 2001 arranged marriage between a 14-year-old church girl and her 19-year-old cousin. Prosecutors contend the girl was coerced into the marriage by Jeffs.
The photograph of the note was taken by a Deseret Morning News photographer who was serving as the media pool photographer during the March 23 hearing. The newspaper digitally enhanced and mirrored the photograph to discern its contents.
Court papers filed Wednesday in 5th District Court contend the information in the note was privileged and that the newspaper was told by Jeffs’ attorneys that it could not be used.
“By publishing the private communication of the defendant the Deseret News has contributed to the difficulty in finding a fair and impartial jury in the case,” the documents say. “It strains credulity to suggest that the media could have possibly believed that they were entitled to use the “pooled” photographer to invade the private communications and writings of a defendant and his counsel.”
An unenhanced photograph showing Jeffs holding the piece of paper in his hand in the courtroom was circulated to other news outlets via The Associated Press. The words written on the the paper were not readable.
After the Deseret Morning News story was published, a Utah State Courts administrator wrote a letter to media outlets warning that similar actions in the future could jeopardize the presence of still cameras in the courtroom.
“I would hope the media recognize the need to police themselves regarding this matter,” court administrator Daniel J. Becker wrote.
A judge determines whether cameras are allowed in his courtroom. Court rules acknowledge the likelihood that a camera could jeopardize a defendant’s right to a fair trial and states that the privacy of victims, witnesses and parties in civil cases outweigh the interests of the public.
An April date for Jeffs’ trial was postponed and no new date has been set.
A telephone message left by The Associated Press for Jeffs’ attorneys Wally Bugden and Tara Isaacson was not immediately returned Friday.
Joe Cannon, editor of the Deseret Morning News, also did not return a message.
Attorneys for a coalition of media outlets plan to file a response to Jeffs’ petition to ban cameras.