San Angelo, Texas (CNN) — Polygamist sect leader Warren Jeffs, who calls himself a prophet, asked a judge on Wednesday to delay his bigamy trial so he can find a Texas lawyer.
Jeffs, 55, leads the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, also known as the FLDS. The charges — bigamy and sexual assault — stem from an alleged spiritual marriage to a 12-year-old girl.
Jeffs’ Nevada-based attorney, Richard Wright, sought to delay the trial, which is to begin January 24. But Judge Barbara Walther denied that request, saying the church leader has long known about the charges in Texas and had plenty of time to seek counsel.
Prosecutors filed the charges two years ago, after authorities raided the sect’s Yearning for Zion Ranch in Eldorado, Texas, and removed more than 400 children. At the time, authorities said they feared the children were sexually abused.
Most of the children were returned to their families at the ranch, but some of the men were charged with sexual abuse.
The FLDS openly practices polygamy at the Texas ranch and in two towns straddling the Utah-Arizona border — Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Arizona.
Critics of the FLDS say underage girls are forced into “spiritual” plural marriages with older men and are sexually abused. Sect members have denied sexual abuse.
FLDS: Search for counsel goes on
The date for the first trial, the one for aggravated sexual assault, is set for Jan. 24.
Walther said she had no intention of changing the dates of the trials until Jeffs has an attorney ready to represent him for the trials.
“Until he has counsel, these dates are set,” Walther said. “I will not change these dates.”
The dates for the other trials are Feb. 21 for sexual assault and March 14 for bigamy.
Walther argued that the indictments that came out in 2008 and the extradition process that began in June should have given Jeffs enough time to find an attorney in Texas.
“He is asking for a two-week period to get counsel,” Wright said.
The court did, however, change the focus of the next pretrial date, Dec. 15.
That date was to be a hearing on a motion to suppress the evidence that was gathered during a raid on the FLDS-owned Yearning for Zion Ranch, where authorities responded to what turned out to be a hoax phone call. Law enforcement personnel obtained hundreds of boxes of documents and other evidence, and more than 400 children were taken from their parents, although an appeals court overruled the decision to take the children and they were returned.
The defense in the criminal trials against men from the YFZ Ranch has constantly objected that the seizure of evidence was a violation of constitutional rights and sought to keep the evidence from being used, hence a joint motion in Texas to suppress evidence from all the indicted FLDS men in Schleicher County.
Jeffs, however, was not a part of that joint motion since he was in jail out of state.