ST. GEORGE — Documents filed under seal by attorneys for polygamist sect leader Warren Jeffs, who in September was convicted of rape and is now in prison, should be released to the public, according to papers filed in 5th District Court on Wednesday.
Salt Lake attorney Jeffrey Hunt, who represents a media coalition including the Deseret Morning News, filed a motion seeking access to the sealed documents.
Attorneys for Jeffs, who Dec. 4 filed a motion seeking a new trial, also filed under seal a supporting memorandum. In seeking the new trial, Jeffs’ defense team argues that “errors and improprieties” occurred that “substantially” affected Jeffs’ constitutional right to a fair trial.
Hunt is seeking access to any sealed documents in the case, noting Judge James Shumate earlier ruled that the defense must provide a copy of any sealed documents to him on an “attorneys’ eyes only basis.”
The defense has “persistently refused” to provide the media with prior notice and an opportunity to contest the denial of public access to any sealed motions before they are filed, according to Hunt’s motion. Shumate should order Jeffs to “cease filing court records in this case under seal” without first complying with procedural and hearing requirements established by law, Hunt writes.
A Washington County jury convicted Jeffs on two first-degree felony counts of rape as an accomplice for his role in conducting a 2001 spiritual marriage between an unwilling 14-year-old bride and her 19-year-old cousin.
Jeffs, 52, was sentenced on Nov. 20 to serve two consecutive terms of five years to life in the Utah State Prison. Jeffs was convicted following several days of testimony from current and former members of the Fundamentalist LDS Church, including Elissa Wall and Allen Steed, the couple he joined in an arranged marriage.
Wall is suing Jeffs and the financial arm of the FLDS Church for land in the polygamous enclave of Hildale, Washington County, and for an unspecified amount of money. Steed, who still lives and works in the Hildale/Colorado City area, was charged with rape a day after testifying on behalf of Jeffs.
Jeffs has since stepped down from his position as president of the FLDS Church, although it is unclear whether he also abdicated his role as the sect’s spiritual leader.